• Susan Freel AllerCoach-TM

The Teen-age Brain and Food Allergies

Young children seem to be very accepting of their food allergic friends, but as they get to be tweens and teens, developmentally, they go through adolescent egocentrism and have difficulty distinguishing between their perception of what others think about them and what people actually think in reality.

What I realized, as a food allergy mom, as my children became teens, was all the years of teaching them to advocate for themselves, be upfront about food allergies and all the usual rules about not taking risks, seemed to be forgotten.  Because adolescents are egocentric and risk takers, they may think that it might be worth keeping their allergies secret, trying foods that they wouldn’t normally try at home, not checking ingredients because they have had the food before and they don’t want to vocalize their allergies to their peers.

According to research reported in Psychology Today, during the adolescence period, there is an increased interest in peer relationships, which motivates teens to focus on their peers in decision-making situations that involve risky behavior.  In addition, adolescent brains are still developing, so they are not as effective at controlling distress during peer social exclusions, so this may contribute to engaging in risky behaviors to prevent being excluded by their peers.

When my son encounters friends who don’t seem to understand, or who dare him to be more risky with his food allergies, he finds that a direct approach works best.  “I say, these are my allergies, this is what I do, and I don’t take chances.”  “Usually,” he said, “kids back down because I am confident that I won’t take chances and I let them know that.  Most people seem to accept what I say and move on.  It is very rare that I have to explain myself over again.”

Some additional suggestions:

1.  Explain that your doctor has told you to take certain precautions.  You don’t have a choice.

2.  Let your friends know that you would do it for them.

3.  Explain a story that has happened to you, or someone you know, so that the risks seem more real.

Whether you are a food allergic teen, or a young child, it can be exhausting to have to defend yourself or your actions in order to stay safe. However, there are some techniques, like role-playing, that may help you feel more empowered around your friends.  Also, the more you understand your food allergy diagnosis and all you CAN do to keep yourself healthy and safe, you will feel more confident, which will help you advocate for yourself.  

If you, or someone you know, has any questions, please contact me for additional information.  

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