Two open and candid teen panel discussions, moderated by Program Director Moureen Wenik, took place on the final day of the National Family Conference. Nearly every seat full, it took only a minute for parents, siblings, and other affected members to enthusiastically ask questions, jot notes, and ultimately discover that this was as rare and unique an opportunity as any – getting inside the minds of teens! From how to keep their cool when strangers stare, to the pros and cons of parents’ ”picking at their skin,” these teens opened up and let the audience explore their situation, from their eyes; in their shoes; in their skin. Additionally, not only did the panel consist of those teens affected, but also included teen siblings of those affected for an even broader family member perspective on life with ichthyosis.
Some key takeaways from the discussion included:
Silence Isn’t Always a Bad Thing: The teens seemed to agree that sometimes they are “quiet” about their situation because they are coming to terms with it themselves. “We don’t always want to talk about what’s happening every day. Trust that if it’s serious enough, we will come to you,” said one teen girl.
Listening is Key: Many teens encouraged parents to listen as carefully as possible. One teen remarked, “If you put a cream on me and I say it hurts, please listen to me and don’t force the issue. Even if you’ve heard it works for lots of other people, it may not work for me.”
Follow Our Lead: One teen remarked, “If I don’t want my skin showing, I don’t want it showing. If I want to wear leggings, I should be able to do so.” Ultimately she encouraged parents not to worry, and to follow the emotional lead of their children. “If I’m happy and comfortable with how I look, or what I’m wearing, my parents should be happy too.”
Public Grooming/Dusting: Parents were curious as to how the teens felt about them constantly picking at them or “dusting them off.” Most teens agreed that they were in fact used to it, and that the constant fussing did not greatly upset them. However, they also encouraged parents, that if it was not too much skin, perhaps they could wait until they got home. Another teen remarked that ultimately, “parents should teach kids to check themselves, and make it a lifelong habit.”
Leaving Home: Teens that are preparing to leave for college shared some concerns that they are currently addressing, including air conditioning, securing a private shower, and informing others of their conditions (more on preparing for college). One teen leaving for college this fall remarked, “I worried about what my roommate would think, because I can’t change my skin. But then I explained everything to her, and she said – no big deal. I have ADHD, does that matter to you?!” Another young adult from the audience offered advice based on her own college experience. “Talk to them, be honest and upfront with your roommates. It will also help by letting them know, so that they can support you, in case there is a medical issue – someone around you should know about your condition, particularly if you do not have family close by.”
Overprotective Siblings: From the sibling perspective, it seemed that most of them had more of a difficult time dealing with the skin condition than the affected individuals. A few of them commented that they feel very overly protective of their sibling, and when people make comments or stare, they “lose their cool,” and tend to want to react in an angry and aggressive manner. “I think it’s normal to get upset for your sibling. However resorting to violent comments and behavior is never a good thing. Just try to explain the situation to them, and also, if it’s a younger sibling, you don’t want them to see you getting angry. It’s not a good example,” said one teen sibling.
Transitioning from a Small to Large School, or Starting School in General: The consensus was that having the parents, along with the affected child, go into classroom and inform people about their skin condition was a positive experience. However, one teen strongly suggested, “Make sure that the affected person is prepared to answer the questions themselves, even beyond when the parent is there. Make sure they really know their condition, and how it affects them, so they don’t feel badly for not knowing what to say.”
Speak for Yourself: For younger children, one teen suggested that maybe it’s not one hundred percent necessary for them to always use the medical terms to discuss their condition. Perhaps if they use their own words to describe their skin, like severely dry, rather than a medical term, it would make the situation more relatable.
Using Your Sixth Sense: Humor – Sometimes turning an uncomfortable question or conversation on its head with a little wit, may be a great way to show peers there is more to you than your skin. One teen commented that whenever he is asked why skin is red, he replies, “’Cause blue was taken!” Although this is not a solution in its entirety, it can really break the ice and lead to a more informative conversation.
We are enormously grateful to our two amazing teen panels for their courage and willingness to share an inside perspective on life as a teen with ichthyosis, and we wish them all the best of luck in all they do!