A couple weeks ago, my son Colby and I traveled to Pittsburgh to take part in the FARE, epi-life & Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC Teen Summit for Teens and Tweens with Food Allergies. As a pre-teen with multiple, severe food allergies who is heading into middle school, he noticed some old allergy-related fears cropping up. This event was the perfect opportunity to empower both of us for what lies ahead. Following the Summit, I asked Colby to share his thoughts, experiences, and the takeaways he gained.
Three takeaways about approaching middle school with severe food allergies, from an allergic tween:
1. People should think POSITIVELY about food allergies.
It’s common for people to talk about what a bummer food restrictions and food allergies must be, which gets annoying after awhile. Yes, I have to carry epinephrine wherever I go and be careful about what I eat. Aside from that, my life doesn’t look that different from anyone else’s. I want my friends and family to be aware of my allergies – especially how to help me if I am in trouble – but I don’t really want to talk about it all the time either. When I meet new people, I’d like them to know that I’m kind, athletic and smart before they ever hear about my food allergies. Usually, people act like my allergies are the most interesting thing about me.
2. Good friends are really important!
I love hanging out with my friends, and I know I’ll get to do this a lot more (without my parents) as I get older. My food allergies will make it impossible to grab a slice of pizza after school or to catch a quick meal before a movie like some teens do. It’s important to me that I have friends who understand this and don’t make me feel bad for making different choices. My real friends will look out for me and not try to pressure me into doing something that might hurt me or make me uncomfortable.
3. I’m worried about everyone else, not about myself.
In middle school, there will be a lot of people who don’t know me or know what to do if I need help. I wish all of my classmates and friends knew how to use my epinephrine to help me, but I know this is impossible. I’m not worried about looking out for myself more and taking more responsibility for my food allergies as I get older, but big kids who don’t understand or bully me about being different scare me.
BONUS: Choose a familiar auto-injector
As a family, we’ve come away with one more important takeaway to carry into the teen years: Choose an epinephrine auto injector that your teen is 100% comfortable carrying and using. All of the available devices carry the same medication, but they are slightly different in their storage and delivery methods. If you’ve used one auto-injector for years, have trained with it, and feel comfortable, then it’s absolutely worth sticking with this device as your child grows more independent. Safety always comes first, and if there’s a device that will limit any hesitation to self-inject in an emergency, then this needs to be taken into consideration.
Parents, keep the lines of communication open when it comes to managing food allergies. Focus on the positive and work together to plan for “what if” situations. You’ll be surprised just how thoughtful and responsible your teen can be in managing this condition!