My thoughts on this subject are many and I have had a difficult time trying to organize them in a coherent manner. I thought it was important to present actual quotes from the show and my thoughts, opinions, and reactions. Bear with me.
I set my DVR to record the SuperNanny last Friday. I had reservations about watching the show since it was diabetes-centric. Sometimes seeing diabetes on the screen leaves me emotionally raw, whether from empathy or from being incensed.
The episode was described:
Bill and Tammy McGrath of Hamlin, New York, have three beautiful young children, and their middle son, Aiden, 5, was recently diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Managing his illness is very anxiety-provoking for Tammy, because she saw her father die of diabetes at just 46 years of age. She sees Aiden’s diagnosis as her worst fears realized, and mealtime has become a battlefield. Aiden makes power plays, refusing to eat, which not only threatens his own health and frightens Tammy, but causes problems for both parents in adjusting Aiden’s insulin levels. The other kids, Liam, 4, and Paige, 9, feel their parents’ distraction and are frustrated by it — Paige hides out in her bedroom and Liam acts out aggressively. Jo pinpoints Bill and Tammy’s problems communicating effectively and enforcing discipline — their versions of timeouts are useless. Can she help Bill and Tammy regain control of their family?
Tears came to my eyes in the opening segment as they showed this little boy, the same age as my own daughter, who has diabetes. I cry when I hear of yet another child’s diagnosis because I know what a hard road it is: both for the child and the parents.
The show began:
“It’s literally a question of life and death…”
“…and help this sick little boy.”
“It’s really all I ever feared as a mother is to have one of my children be diagnosed with diabetes.”
And that was just the 30 second intro!
I really hoped for the best and that this show would be educational for those not familiar with diabetes. But I immediately began shaking my head.
(1) “It’s literally a question of life and death…”
Yes, diabetes is a question of life and death. But you cannot live your life as a patient or a parent thinking of this every second of every day. And you certainly cannot put that type of pressure on a child. I have never told my daughter that it is life and death. Rather, we tell her that her diabetes management keeps her healthy. (Notice the difference in the wording and my words show optimism.)
(2) “…and help this sick little boy.”
That child is not sick. My child is not sick. Being diabetic does not mean you are sick. During our education classes after diagnosis, the nurses stressed to us that diabetes should not be considered a disease but rather a condition because disease implies being sick. You can be healthy and diabetic.
(3) “It’s really all I ever feared as a mother is to have one of my children be diagnosed with diabetes.”
There are far worse things in life than having your child diagnosed with diabetes. Diabetics can thrive. My daughter is thriving. But many of the children we encountered at the hospital had it far worse. Children whose immune systems were so compromised that they had to back away from our outgoing child because they could not be breathed on, let alone accept my daughter’s outreached hand. Children wearing bandanas, obviously suffering the effects of chemotherapy. Children who were in physical pain. Children who may never return to their normal lives. Children who may not live. There are far worse things than a diabetes diagnosis.
Facts and Figures
(4) “In America alone there are roughly 186,000 children under the age of 20 that have Type 1 diabetes.”
186,000 may seem like a large number, but given the total number of children in this age group in the US, it seems like a small percentage. I find it fascinating that we have met so many diabetic children locally.
(5) “Type 1 diabetes has rose over the past two years by 13.5%.”
This increase in the number of children diagnosed makes me question whether or not there is some new environmental trigger that had been unseen (or unrecognized) previously. The funny (or not so funny) thing is that we began eliminating many children’s products from our home that contain BPA when our second child was a baby. BPA is a known endocrine disruptor that is used in some plastics to harden them. My husband wondered if the bottles that we used for our daughter, which did contain BPA, could have been a trigger. Though there is no way to know and no way to prove it. (And we did our best with the knowledge we had at the time. When our daughter was born, the safety of BPA was not a well-known issue.)
The Wrong Perspective
(6) Mom: “I knew diabetes was a death sentence. It meant death to me because I watched my father die.”
SN: “Diabetes doesn’t need to be seen as a death sentence. Aiden is five years old and he’s got his whole life ahead of him.”
During our education we were told that current statistics are that people with diabetes have a life expectancy approximately 10 years shorter than non-diabetic people. I look at this in two ways. First, older diabetic people currently contributing to this statistic weren’t given the benefit of current care standards. Second, treatment and care will likely change dramatically during our child’s lifetime and who knows, maybe predicted lifespan will be similar to the general population for children who are presently diagnosed. There is not, and never has been, a reason not to think that our daughter wouldn’t live a long, healthy life.
(7) SN: “If he hasn’t eaten his dinner then he has to consume the amount of carb necessary?”
Mom: “We’d have to make him something that he’ll eat.”
SN: “Aiden has recognized that when his mom and dad panic about him eating food that really he has an enormous amount of power and control over them.”
I had serious issues with the parents force feeding this child.
First of all, he is five years old and common protocol at this age is for the child to eat first and be given an insulin bolus based on the food (and number of carbohydrates) actually consumed. This is what we do.
From what I witnessed on the show, the parents calculated his bolus and administered his injection after the meal. If they are following this protocol, then there is absolutely no reason to force this child to finish his plate.
Young children’s appetites vary widely from meal to meal and day to day. This is exactly the reason why most providers allow for post-meal bolusing.
“Do you want to get sick? You need to eat.” The child will not get sick if he is given the appropriate amount of insulin for the food actually consumed. Assinine!
At one point they wanted him to finish his meat. Meat has no carbs and would not have made a bit of difference in his bolus calculations. Instead of making it an issue, he could have been done with his meal right then. Jo said, “We must have sat there for an hour.”
Are you kidding me?
It is not healthy to make any child sit there for an hour until he is made to finish his plate. And I always think that diabetics will have enough issues surrounding food without being force fed.
I know the goal is to give insulin before eating (something that we are working toward), but force feeding a 5-year-old diabetic is just going to create more control issues.
I really have to question this protocol. If you are bolusing after the meal, you can bolus for what he actually ate. It’s hard not to make food an issue, but force feeding just creates control issues.
(8) Obviously parents of diabetic children need to be in control. But these parents I think were approaching it from the wrong angle and making it worse for the child. And in a lot of ways they let him have the control.
We were taught to give control where it can be given (e.g., which finger to check or one of several food choices at snack time) but be matter of fact about other aspects.
Q was very compliant by the time we left the hospital as far as acceptance of getting finger checks and injections. At about a month out we had issues for all of 3 days. We used Rufus to allow her to give him an injection first. Then I would say, “Q, you have a choice to get your injection in the kitchen or the living room. But not getting your injection is not one of the choices. Let’s do this quick and easy and be done with it.”
I completely understand that a child may feel frustration about not having choices. But parents need to provide a strong framework, routine, and set of expectations. Children need structure and you shouldn’t let that go by the wayside just because your child has been diagnosed with diabetes.
Celebrities with Diabetes
(9) Since the show always ends on a high note, they had a special message from a diabetic athlete.
SN: “Before I leave this family I want to shed some information that allows them to accept that diabetes is a medical condition that they will live along side and that it never has to restrict Aiden on what he chooses to do in his life.”
Jo listed these celebs with Type 1 diabetes:
Mary Tyler Moore
Nick Jonas (singer and actor, Nick’s Simple Wins)
Jay Cutler (Chicago Bears quarterback, Touchdowns for Diabetes)
Sean Busby (professional snowboarder, Riding on Insulin)
Mom: “I think Aiden absolutely got the message that it’s okay that he has diabetes.”
Great message, however it misses the mark a little. I have a five-year-old. She could care less about most of these celebs. Why not do a little research and come up with some people that children could actually relate to. People closer to her own age. My daughter doesn’t know who most of these older people are.
(And there was an uproar among the DOC that Halle Berry was mentioned. Berry supposedly weaned herself off of insulin, becoming a Type 2 diabetic. If you are a Type 1 diabetic, you need insulin or you will die. Nothing like disseminating information to the masses!)
They ended the show with a screenshot directing people to the ADA.
“If you or someone you love has diabetes, the American Diabetes Association can help.”
Since it was a show based on a Type 1 child, they should have also directed viewers to the JDRF.
I guess the good thing is that the family reached out for help. Hopefully the show made a difference for them. For me I was in awe that they had not gained control and figured things out at the eight month mark.
What did you think of the episode, whether or not you are effected by diabetes.
You can watch the episode in it’s entirety on ABC.
Other Reactions to the Episode
Lee Ann Thill of The Butter Compartment: Superninny (Love that post title!)
Rachel Thursby of What Life Has Become: My impressions of the SuperNanny diabetes episode