Food Allergy, Teens: The Danger Years

in Managing Allergies, Parenting & School
Published: July 2, 2010

THE CHALLENGES facing allergic teens are manageable. Even highly allergic students such as Kathleen and Keely are stars in their respective sports, competing province-wide; allergies have not held them back. As journeys with teammates on buses present food issues, their parents have become veteran chauffeurs, travelling with their teens alongside the bus in the family car.

Kathleen, who plays soccer and basketball in both high school and women’s community leagues, has even graduated to bus trips with the other kids. A highlight was a class trip to New York last year. A teacher who was to chaperone on the trip contacted Alice to see which restaurants would be considered safe, and what extra precautions to take. For the bus ride, students were told to not bring anything with peanut because “some people” were allergic. (Kathleen appreciated not being singled out.)

For teens who can’t recall an allergic reaction, it is a bigger job getting them to admit they may be very much at risk. From experience dealing with teenagers, Young thinks part of the solution is for parents and educators to make sure there is good awareness of the risk of anaphylaxis within schools. Young called Bishop Smith’s campaign “the safety and awareness” program. The idea behind this is that the higher the level of awareness of allergies within the whole school populace, the greater the level of safety.

Parents need to be proactive about making sure measures are in place to protect older children at their high schools. But the experts say they also must keep reminding teenagers to ask about allergens, not to risk “may contains” and to find a means of carrying their auto-injectors. Young says that, above all, it is essential to get teenagers to buy into taking responsibility for their own conditions.

The approach he uses is from the school official’s perspective, but it works for a parent as well. Young has said in a friendly way to groups of at-risk students, “Guys, we can only do so much here. You’re 14, 15, 16, some of you are 18. I’m not going to walk around and hold your hand like we did in elementary school. We are not going to make a table in the cafeteria peanut-free and have you guys sit there because we know you don’t want to do that.

“At your age, ultimately, it rests on your shoulders. You know what you can eat, and what you can’t eat. You know that if you go through the cafeteria line, there are questions you have to ask. It is your responsibility.”

Ham Pong adds that as high school brings with it new friends, a parent should try casually making the new acquaintances aware of the allergy – in case the teen has been reticent to do so. Possibilities include ordering a pizza and mentioning that you’ve checked to find out that it’s peanut free or reminding a teen on the way out the door about his auto-injector.

As nothing is more important to teens than the opinions of their peers, friends can become allies in keeping your adolescent vigilant about allergies. Kathleen’s schoolmates won’t even let her eat a homemade sandwich in the cafeteria if she has forgotten her EpiPen in her locker. And her good friend Tessa has never forgotten how seriously ill Kathleen took from one tiny candy. “Sometimes when we go to eat someplace, I’ll say: ‘do you have it [the auto-injector]?’ But now, she always does.”

See Also:

  • Comparing U.S. College Food Allergy Policies here.
  • Teens Talk Food Allergy here.

First published in Allergic Living magazine.
© Copyright AGW Media Inc.