Being a teenager comes with all types of growing pains, and food allergies only add to this tumultuous time. This is why it is imperative to find ways to support your teens living with food allergies, even if they think they don’t need it.
My parents are my biggest supporters who taught me how to become my own best advocate. However, during my teen years it was not as easy for me to understand their motivations. I’ve had multiple food allergies since I was a baby (to peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, potato, legumes, banana, kiwi, mango, olives…) along with environmental allergies and asthma. Back when I was little, food allergies were not at all prevalent. I was 16-years-old before I met anyone else my age with food allergies. This meant my parents were really on this journey together to figure it out with me. Right from the beginning they raised me to learn to be independent. They wanted me to be able to eventually do anything I wanted to do and not let food allergies be a barrier. This meant that all through my childhood into adulthood, we were always asking “how can we make this happen?” instead of saying “we can’t make this happen.”
I give my parents significant credit for how they taught me, guided me, and gave me the tools to succeed. I asked my mom if she would contribute some of her thoughts and suggestions on how she supported me during this time.
My mom’s suggestions:
- By teen years, it is a “partnership” – not “control” and the language needs to really value teen’s contribution
- Always remember that a teen’s emotional work is to “separate”– don’t personalize their privacy and or “contrariness”
- Drive teen/and friends as often as possible- and just listen (helps to understand what relationship status’ are, etc.)
- Make home open and encourage it as a comfortable hang-in place for teen and friends
- Every so often, remind teen of the challenges you might have had (without AFA’s) – remind them that NO question is off limits
- Keep quick response “no’s” to a minimum (for true non-negotiables)- Show value for dialogue and teen perspective
- Make sure teen is educated (kissing games, dating, alcohol). Try to inform instead of judge. “Education is the goal”
- Have teen know that they can always make you the bad guy
- Agreed upon “code term” for uncomfortable or unsafe situation
- Get them any Medic Alert bracelet they will wear
- Wallet sized chef cards
- Own your own anxiety- but don’t transfer it
A few comments from me:
- I did use my parents as the “bad guy” multiple times if I felt uncomfortable and needed to leave a situation or not go to one in the first place. I truly appreciated that they told me that because it was a way to “fit in” without feeling uncomfortable about saying no.
- My parents never showed me any of their anxiety about my food allergies and I think that is crucial because I don’t feel anxious about them in general.
My sister and I are both adults now (late twenties and early thirties). It’s been a while since we were teens. I do remember that age however, and I know that as teens, we are not always kind and thankful to our parents in the moment. It can be such an awkward time and all we want to do is fit in. With food allergies, you automatically have a considerable challenge because you are responsible for carrying your medication, asking questions, potentially going out to eat, but not eating, etc. It is also a time where there is a tug-of-war for independence and privacy.
Here are some of my biggest suggestions to you:
- Be clear about what is non-negotiable (for example, carrying my epinephrine, etc. was never a choice just like wearing my Medic Alert bracelet). These were always non-negotiables as a child, so I didn’t ever fight them on these as a teen.
- Find ways to give suggestions without telling teens exactly what to do because at that age we think we know everything- sorry! My mom had all sorts of ways of doing this. Sometimes she would leave articles on my bed or work something into a story.
- Routine is still important with kids and teens. For example, having them keep their medications in the same place each night so they don’t forget them in the morning.
- Making sure they have a good support system in place. Friends that know their allergies and care about keeping them safe is an essential. My friends were amazing. They always stood by me. Sometimes they were actually embarrassing because they cared. I was lucky. It’s important your teens feel like they have friends who get it and support them.
- As teens do more independently, like going out to restaurants for example with friends, it’s helpful to have a few places they know have safe options. Teens should still always ask and use a chef card, however it is good for them to have some in mind so they can suggest where to go and feel comfortable eating there.
- Talk through scenarios with your teens. My parents did a lot of role playing with me all growing up. It helped me to think on my feet and made so many situations easier. Your teen may not want to do it, but at least talk through “what if” scenarios.
This is our experience and hopefully some of this will help you! No matter what, don’t get discouraged and remember someday when your kids are no longer teens they will appreciate everything you did and thank you for it!
P.S. Make sure to leave a copy of this article I wrote for Allergic Living Magazine on your teens bed (my mom definitely would have ;)