Life with a food allergy can be more of a challenge for a teen than a young child. These years are all about fitting in, but a kid with allergies often can’t eat what her friends eat, or has to ask for special meals, or must pass when everyone else is eating something she can't have.
Here are some ways that you, as a parent, can help her learn to manage that food allergy so it doesn’t manage her.
Talk about it. This is less about one big talk than it is many talks to prepare your teen to be on her own. "It is important for parents to prepare kids to be independent," says pediatric allergist Anne Miranowski, MD. "Parents should teach kids how to read food labels, make smart decisions at grocery stores and restaurants, recognize symptoms, and when to call 911. It should be an ongoing educational process."
Empower your teen. Teach her what to do when you're not around. Brainstorm together about how to handle tricky situations and role-play different scenes. For instance, help her create "chef cards" that explain the allergy, and encourage her to talk about it with waiters, chefs, and restaurant managers when you go out to eat.
Find a good allergist. This should be someone you both trust and feel comfortable with. She should get regular checkups to manage allergies, update medications, and learn about what she needs to do for her own self-care.
Control asthma. This is especially important for a teen with serious allergies. Keeping asthma in line may help her avoid severe reactions to allergy trigger foods. Make sure she takes her daily maintenance medication and gets regular checkups. "Many teenagers use their rescue inhaler every day," says pediatric allergist Jacqueline Eghrari-Sabet, MD. "They puff and puff on the inhaler, but this can make the situation worse. If your teen needs to use her rescue inhaler all the time, her asthma is out of control."
Connect with peers. A support group for people with food allergies can put both of you in touch with other people who face the same challenges. Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) offers a directory of support groups around the country. It can even help you start your own group if there isn't one in your area.
Model good judgment, not fear. "It's important to teach kids to be careful without instilling an inappropriate level of fear," Miranowski says. If you're careful but calm, your teen will have a good role model and can approach her allergy with wisdom instead of worry.