I am JJ: Young people with food allergies must be courageous

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Blog Post #135 — Last year, I had the chance to speak to a number of elementary school classes about my book, Land of Not. During a few of my presentations to older elementary students, I would bring a cardboard box with me. At some point during the presentation, I'd lift up the box in front of the class.

"I just ordered this last week from Amazon," I'd say, struggling to place the 'heavy' box on the table in front of me. "It's a box of courage, and I can't wait to show it to you."

"Courage?" someone would inevitably say doubtfully. "Courage in a box?"

I'd then invite several volunteers to the front. I'd open the top of the box and give them a peek.

"This is courage," I'd announce.

The volunteers would look in.

"It's empty," one would immediately say. "Nothing is in there."

I'd pick it up, shake the box and place it back down. "Yes, there is," I'd insist. "It's courage. I see it."

I'd invite a few more volunteers to the front with the same results. 

"It's an empty box," another would say.

Finally, I'd help them out.

"This is courage," I'd say looking in. "And courage is .... Courage is me sticking up for a friend when they need my help."

I'd shake the box again. I'd look in. 

"And courage is me going out for a team, even though I may not know if I'm going to make it," I'd explain.

I'd shake the box again.

"And courage is me learning a new language. And me getting on that roller coaster. And me making a new friend."

I'd invite the kids to the front again and ask them to take another peek inside the 'courage' box.

"What does courage look like to you?" I'd ask. Once the kids knew the rules of the game, their answers were spot on.

Experts say that people who live an asset-based life, those who live in the Land of Can, embrace courage. This is even more important for children who have food allergies. 

They must know what courage is and they must able to embrace it in their own lives.

Most young people think courage is something big, like running into a burning building to save someone. Sure, that may be courage in an extreme way, but I definitely don't want my 16-year-old sister trying to play hero by doing something like that. Young people often mistake courage with doing something dangerous, almost irresponsible. Using that definition, most responsible kids don't feel courageous or brave at all. By that definition, most people are cowards.

So we need to redefine our definition of courage just a bit. And then let our kids help see themselves as courageous and brave. 

Do your children know what "courage" is, and do they see themselves as courageous? Or do they see themselves as cowardly? How would your children define courage? 

Experts say parents and teachers can help define courage by pointing out regular examples of courage when they see it, whether they see it in their own children, on TV, or anywhere. 

Kids who live with food allergies must be courageous. Not running-into-a-burning-building-to-save-someone courageous, but courageous in normal, everyday things.

Young people with food allergies need the courage to advocate for themselves, even if the adult in the room is not doing it. They need the courage to avoid situations that are dangerous. They need the courage to say "No" to unsafe things or things they are unsure of. They need the courage to suggest alternatives. They need the courage to trust their guts. They need the courage to voice their fears about their allergy to you, even if the fears sound trite or unreasonable. They need the courage to explore and try new things. They need the courage to live their best lives.

And we need the courage to help get them there.

I'm sure you have an empty 'courage' box in the closet. It's time to open it. 


JJ Vulopas is a rising 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.