Ah… the teenage years! Although my son is only 12 now, I can feel them coming on and am seeing a preview of the food allergy challenges we’ll be facing for the foreseeable future.
Teens and young adults with food allergies are at the greatest risk of having a reaction. Risk taking behavior is all part of the teenage brain. And when hormone changes, the desire to fit in and peer pressure are combined with food allergies, innocent situations can turn deadly.
Studies show that preadolescents and teens – who typically do not want to draw attention to themselves – shy away from mentioning their food allergies and often intentionally leave their emergency medication at home.
What can parents do? Continue talking to your teen about his or her food allergies and the new situations they face. Play out various scenarios and involve them in the problem solving. Importantly, arm them with the language to use to avoid putting themselves at risk. If we can give them some ways to deal with their food allergies in a smooth, off-handed manner, they may be more likely to self-advocate, speaking up when it matters.
Share your child’s go-to lines and we’ll include them below.
Practice these. Make them your own: deliver the lines with humor, sarcasm, be nonchalant or matter-of-fact. However you decide, just speak up!
Situation: (Friends are at a restaurant/cafeteria/movie theater hanging out) Mmm… Try some. It’s so good and I think it’s nut-free. Here have some!
Straightforward Reply: That does look good. But, I’m allergic to nuts. I’d love to try it if it’s safe- is there an ingredient list?
Alternative Reply: That’s a great looking [brownie, cookie, dumpling…etc]. I think I’m going to pass. But, thanks for offering!
These approaches work because they alert your friends that you have an allergy and simply can’t eat things that aren’t safe. But if they are persistent:
Situation Progresses: Come on! Have one little bite!!!
Reply: (Distract) No chance. But have you tried the donuts [or insert food – either at the location or elsewhere]? They’re insane!
Reply: A little bite can make me really sick. I’d rather hang at this party/football game/movie than head to the hospital. I’m good!
Situation: Your teen is worried about bringing his/her epinephrine auto-injectors out with their friends.
Reply: Hey guys, I have my auto-injectors in this bag just in case anything happens. Do you want to drop your phone or sweatshirt in here too? Might as well fill it up!
Solution: Carry two Auvi-Qs! Each Auvi-Q is about the size of a deck of cards and can fit in most pockets. You DO need to carry two – if necessary, place them in a jacket pocket. And, let a trusted friend know they are there.
Situation: You’re at a restaurant/food court/concession stand with your friends. You need to ask several food allergy-related questions, but you’re embarrassed.
Reply: (to friends) I have to ask the manager a few questions. I’ll be right back.
In this scenario, you can ask questions about ingredients without drawing attention to yourself. Don’t miss the chance to eat safely and without worry or you’ll miss having fun with your friends!
Reply: (Before you order… to your friends) Hey, guys. I’m going to need to ask a bunch of food allergy questions. Do you want to order first?
Reply: (Before you order… to your friends) Hey, guys. I’m going to need to ask a bunch of food allergy questions. Just keep talking so I don’t get nervous. (Jokingly) You know I have stage fright!
Situation: You’re at your friend’s house. Your friend’s mom offers to get you “something to eat.” “I’ll grab you guys a snack!” she says, with no further description.
Reply: I have a food allergy. Do you have a piece of fruit I could eat?
Reply: I have food allergies. If you don’t mind, can I read some ingredient labels to see what’s safe for me?
Reply: Thank you for offering, but I have a food allergy. I’m okay for now.
I brought my own snack – all I need is a bowl/spoon/fork!
Parents love kids who take charge of themselves and are forthcoming with important information. Telling an adult on-site that you have a food allergy gives you another layer of protection – a second set of eyes and someone to help if you feel you’re having a reaction.
Situation: A boy/girl you’ve been eyeing just asked you to go out for ice cream – but you have concerns about your food allergies at ice cream shops.
Solution: Find a coffee shop or restaurant with a similar fun feel that you know is safe and suggest you go there to hang out.
Solution: Try an activity-based date. Bowling, mini-golf, watching your school’s football game, seeing a band play, etc are sure to bring the fun without too much worry about food.
Reply: I’m actually allergic to dairy/nuts/peanuts. Would you mind if we tried this new frozen yogurt shop? I’ve been dying to try their sorbet flavors!
Mentioning your allergies right away isn’t a deal breaker; it’s a way to ensure that you’ll feel relaxed on your date. And when you’re more relaxed, you’re more likely to have fun!