Gastroesophageal reflux disease can affect a teen’s quality of life in many different ways, including sleep quality, food choices, social interactions and self-image. Adolescence is a time when young people spend more time without their parents, experience constant peer pressure, and take more risks. It is, therefore, extremely important that as a parent of a teen with acid reflux disease, you help your child to learn to manage his or her disease as safely and as positively as possible. Sooner or later your teen is going to be in charge of their own health.
The following coping strategies will help you and your family navigate through a potentially difficult stage of life.
1. Give Everyone a Day Off
“Understand that you can have a bad eating day… and you WILL have a bad-eating day. Don’t worry about it, just get back on track the next day.”
This advice was given to us when we first visited the University of Missouri for acid reflux treatment for my son Twelve years later, it still provides comfort and allows us to relax when there is a special event. We know that after a party we will probably pay a price later that night and possibly for a few days to come. We commit ourselves to a few careful days of eating following the special event and know it was worth it for all of us to be able to relax.
2. Be Positive
Be sure to emphasize the positive more than the negative. If your teen tells you he is going to the local pizza joint with his friends, instead of reminding him about the things he cannot eat, remind him of the yummy things that he can eat. “They have the best grilled chicken sandwiches there!”
Or, if he is going to hang out with friends, just grab some different food items that all teens like to eat (but that are safe choices for acid reflux) and send them along with your teen. Do not make it about food avoidance, rather, tell your teen, “These were on sale at the store and I know you and your friends are big eaters when you are playing video games.”
3. Your Teen’s World Is Not Your World
Teens may have their own approach to how they manage their acid reflux disease. Teens have an incredibly difficult world to navigate, and may have their own reasons for their disease decision making. For example, if everyone is meeting at the “spaghetti warehouse,” it would make perfect sense to an adult to ask them to change their meeting place so that everyone can be accommodated. But teens may or may not want others to know about their acid reflux disease. Whenever possible, respect their decisions. Teens understand the way their world works better than we understand it.
4. Find Good Role Models
It really does take a village. Even the greatest parents are limited in their influence. Teens love to learn from other teens. One of the best teachers for my own son has been a young family friend with type I diabetes who is a few years older.
When this friend comes out with us, my son sees him having to read labels, take medicine and take responsibility for his own health. Even though the disease is different, my son has learned a great deal from this teen.
5. Teach Your Teen to Talk to His or Her Doctor
None of us are born knowing how to communicate in a doctor’s office. Instead, it is a skill that is learned over time. As soon as your teen learns to communicate with his doctor directly and develop a relationship, the better. Teach your teen to make notes when something is going on or if there is a question between appointments. Then, on the way to the doctor’s office, spend a minute going over what he may want to cover ahead of time.
“Remember how you were wondering if your medicine could just be taken at night instead of two different times a day? Is this something you want to ask the doctor at this visit?” Eventually your teen will be on his own in the doctor’s office and will need to be their best advocate. Teaching him to use the appointment time as efficiently as possible is really important, especially if he only sees the specialist once or twice a year.