Raising teenagers and kids about to be teenagers is difficult, but if they have type 1 diabetes, it makes it drastically more difficult. You face a unique set of challenges and obstacles that most other parents don’t encounter. A recent study revealed one interesting way that you can help your teen manage their diabetes.

helping with pets helps kids maintain diabetesA recent study from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center has a new idea for helping these young adults start taking responsibilities for their condition. The study used 29 different type 1 diabetics between the ages of 10 and 17. 16 of the children got a fishbowl and enough money to buy a fish. With the fish, they were also given instruction on how to care for the fish, and every time they fed the fish they had to check their glucose levels. Every time they had to clean the fish bowl (once a week) they had to discuss their numbers with their parents. The other 13 children didn’t get any fish, but don’t worry, they were given fish at the end of the study.

While it sounds like a simple experiment, it showed some interesting results. The children that had to care for the fish were 2.5 times more likely to have healthy blood sugar levels than those without the little fishy friend. After three months of the study, the kids with the fish had better A1C levels than those without.

So, what does this mean for parents of type 1 diabetics? It might not seem like it, but it could be a huge tool. As children get older, especially close to the teenage years, they want to start taking more responsibility, and it’s at this point that most kids think they are old enough to manage their diabetes without having their parents hovering over them.

But how do we transition from managing our kid’s diabetes to letting them care for themselves? At what point should we start this transition? Unfortunately, the answers to these questions are easy to come by. It’s going to be different for every child and every parent. If your child is at the stage that you think they can safely control their own diabetes and can handle the reasonability, maybe using a technique like the one in the study could be beneficial for your family.

The authors of the study believe that the sense of responsibility that the children have gives them more of a “grown-up” feeling, which can encourage them to take care of their diabetes as well. Aside from that, having a routine, like every time you feed the fish you measure your levels, is important for children and young adults. If you already have a pet, you can do a similar experiment with your child. Put them in charge of taking care of your pet, and every time they take the dog for a walk or feed the cat, have them check their glucose levels and write them down somewhere where you can check them on a daily basis. This is a great way to ease your child into the full responsibilities of managing their chronic condition.

With all the struggles of being a teenager and going through high school, the added stress of diabetes can be too much for some kids to handle. But as long as there is no cure for type 1, it’s a reason-ability they are going to have to learn to manage as they become older and go out on their own. One of the worst things that you could do for your child is not to teach them the do’s and don’ts of their condition.