Teens in the Real World
  Food Allergies in the Real World  

A Closer Look at Teen Summit

By Jen Corey, FAAN's Youth Programs Manager

Last November marked FAAN's Sixth Annual Teen Summit held in Arlington, VA, co-sponsored by the Food Allergy Initiative. The FAAN Teen Summit is an opportunity for teenagers with food allergies, their siblings, and their parents to come together from all over the country to hear from a wide array of speakers on different topics related to food allergies. While the attendees love to hear new information in the world of food allergies, the part that they love the most is being surrounded by other people just like them who "get it."

The weekend opened with inspirational speaker, Curtis Zimmerman. This was Zimmerman’s third time at Teen Summit, and everyone loves him and his message of “Living the Dream.” Time and time again, we hear that the part of the weekend that teens like best is the opportunity to just hang out and not talk about food allergies with other teens who, without having to bring it up, just “get it.” Friday night, the teens had a casino night filled with card games, roulette, Farkle, stacking cups, and hula-hoop contests. On Saturday night, the teens had a social with a DJ and dance floor. Everyone danced the night away!

During the day on Saturday and Sunday, the teens heard from many speakers on important topics regarding food allergies. One of the main focuses of Teen Summit this year was clinical trials for food allergy research. Teen speakers, Benjamin and Maya, talked about their personal experiences with clinical trials. They discussed their fears and reservations about participating, but most importantly, how it was worth it to participate because both of them have had success with outgrowing a food allergy.

The teens also heard from their peers on topics such as managing multiple food allergies, traveling with food allergies, bullying in school, advocacy, summer camp, college life, and dating. Additionally, they heard from allergist Dr. Hemant Sharma from Children’s National Medical Center, adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Eyal Shemesh, and registered nurse Pam Steele from Duke University Medical Center.

The weekend concluded when the parents and teens came together for a question and answer session. This was an opportunity for the teens to anonymously ask the parents questions and for the parents to do the same to the teens. One teen asked the parents if they ever have trouble with bullying from their peers. All of the parents’ heads shook up and down in unison that they had experienced bullying. It opened up a great opportunity for the parents to share their stories with the rest of the group about how they deal with bullying from other parents, just as teens deal with it from other teens. It definitely brought the group closer -- talking about a common bond that was understood by everyone. The teens also asked the parents if they missed the foods that they were no longer allowed to eat because of their kids’ food-allergies. All of the parents agreed that they did not miss the foods because keeping their kids safe was so much more important.

The parents also had some great questions for the teens. They wanted to know what the teens will take away from Teen Summit. The answers were, overwhelmingly, new friends and a sense of they’re not alone.

Teen Summit will be back next year in Washington, DC, at Georgetown University Hotel & Conference Center on Nov. 9-11. Mark your calendars and stay tuned for more information posted on www.foodallergy.org when it becomes available.

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