I Am JJ: Teens with food allergies say 'We are more than our limits!'

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Message from young people with food allergies to other young people with food allergies: “We are more than our limits!”

I’m still smiling thinking about the FARECon Featuring Teen Summit event I attended this weekend just outside Washington D.C. FARE’s annual allergy event provided a wealth of information for people of all ages.

I participated in two sessions: one on dating and a second on inspiring young people to focus on who they are and who they can be, instead of who they’re not. I’ll be writing much more about both these sessions in upcoming posts.

During my second session, the teens and I talked about the importance of having a CAN Mindset. Promoting a CAN mindset has been my main focus over the 251 posts of this blog’s life, and I was honored that FARE gave me the opportunity to get my message into the minds of those who need it most. During the session, I even read a few pages from my book, Land of Not. Our conversations were incredible. These teens get it! I wish every adult who has anything to do with food allergy awareness would have been sitting in that room listening — absorbing — what we discussed. It was powerful. And it was motivating. And it was real.

At the end of the session, with only a few minutes left, I asked the students to break into small groups. “I will be presenting the Land of Can to a series of schools,” I told them. “Can you help me with something? Tell me one message that elementary students with food allergies should know.”

The students formed into groups and after a few minutes–literally, only a few minutes!–they produced messages that were both inspiring and insightful. (I’ll be sharing all their thoughts in future posts.)

One of the groups came up with a phrase that gets right to the heart of what it means to live in the Land of Can. It’s a message that every child with a food allergy must now. And they must know it early. “We are more than our limits!”

Whenever I’m surrounded by other young people with food allergies, I am overwhelmed with an incredible sense of hope. These students don’t have to be victims. They don’t have to be timid souls banished to the peanut free table for the rest of their lives. They are teens with dreams and hopes and ambitions. They are talented and caring and empathetic and strong. In a word, they are awesome. They’re as “normal” as the next kid. They just so happen to also have food allergies.

As a community, we must continue to keep our kids with food allergies safe. We must continue to acknowledge how serious our allergies are. We must continue to remind each other to Give Epinephrine First and Go Call 911, to Alway Carry Two, to always have a safety plan in place, to always read labels, to always advocate for ourselves. We must continue to help our children understand that there is no shame in having an allergy, which is why they must let the people who must know about their allergies aware. There is no wiggle here room there.

But just as important for the emotional growth of our kids — so our kids can grow into successful young adults who use a CAN mindset to achieve greatness — is that we let them know that they are more than their food allergies. As a wise group of teens told me Saturday, “We are more than our limits!”

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 JJ Vulopas is a senior at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. An advocate for young people, JJ has lived with food allergies his entire life. He is the author of the children's book, Land of Not. You can read his daily blog at www.thelandofcan.com and follow him @thelandofcan on Twitter and Instagram.