Like you, your teenager is going to have a range of feelings about their eye condition. The teenage years in general are an emotional time for many young people as they move from adolescence to adulthood. Most want to fit in with their peers and being “different” because of a visual impairment can cause reactions such as anger, depression, or sadness. Many teens are also concerned about the future, and their uncertainty can sometimes give rise to strong negative feelings about having blindness or low vision.

Teenagers who are blind or low vision may share a number of reactions but feelings vary from person to person. Also, teens who have recently become visually impaired will often have somewhat different emotional needs from those who have been visually impaired since early childhood.

During the teenage years, some children experience a significant decrease in vision from conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa (RP) or Stargardt’s disease. Other children may lose vision from an accident or other traumatic event. If your child is in this group, they have a lot to deal with emotionally. Like you, they may be grieving for the “normal” or “near normal” vision they previously had. Your child may also be angry about the things that they are having trouble doing, such as reading or going places alone. And their relationship with friends may have changed because their friends are uncertain how to support them.

Your teen is going to need time to adjust, learn to live with their loss of vision, and deal with their feelings, but they are also going to need encouragement and support. Many of the strategies that are important for teenagers born with reduced vision will be helpful now.

Helping Your Teen with Vision Loss

Giving your child emotional support in the teen years needs to be a critical focus. Here are some of the ways you may be able to help her:

  • Be available to talk with your child about their feelings about having a significant reduction in vision. Identify your own feelings and cope with your child’s vision loss. Let her know you’re there to listen and be supportive of her, not be judgmental.
  • Help them meet other teens and adults who are blind or low vision and leading successful lives. Meeting someone else with blindness or low vision and hearing about their experiences will help your child realize they are not the only person with an eye condition. Role models may share how they’ve dealt with their own feelings about vision loss. Hearing directly from someone who’s had similar experiences can be very helpful to many teens.
  • Your teen may also benefit from time spent at summer camps and other programs.
  • If your child expresses feelings of sadness or anger about their relationship with friends, suggest that they invite one or two friends over. Some teens may not be sure how to react and support a friend who has experienced vision loss. Your child might need to make the first move and find that their friends are still there for them once they have a chance to talk quietly with each other. Reestablishing relationships with friends will provide an outlet for sharing feelings.
  • If you find your child is emotionally distraught, consider having her talk with a counselor. Sometimes an outsider who has professional training can help young people work through issues more effectively than those who are closest to the young person.

Helping your teenager feel self-esteem and self-acceptance can contribute greatly to their well-being and lay the groundwork for a satisfying life.

The Value of Role Models

Your teenager may find it easier to talk about their eye condition with others who are blind or low vision. If they don’t have much contact with other children when they were younger, consider encouraging them to do so now. That would give them a chance to share experiences with others who, they feel, are like them. Your child might benefit by finding role models among new acquaintances and, in turn, might become a role model for a younger person. The experience may make them feel better about themself and their blindness or low vision.

The Driver’s License Issue

Most teens with low vision won’t be able to get a driver’s license, and this may be a significant issue for them. Not being able to drive can be emotionally difficult because this rite of passage is one their friends are constantly talking about. However, your teenager can develop strategies for being a nondriver that will help them feel more independent and less socially isolated.

Socializing and Dating

Some of your child’s emotions about being blind or low vision may stem from the challenges they are facing in social relationships, in both friendships and dating relationships. Your child may feel left out or may doubt their ability to attract friends as well as dates. Helping to develop strategies to make and maintain friendships is important for their overall emotional well-being. Working with your child on how to look attractive is important as well. Investing time in discussing and role playing how to flirt and act with members of the opposite sex can go a long way in providing increased self-confidence.

Mixed Feelings About the Future

Like all teens, your child may have mixed feelings about the future. On the one hand, they may want to hurry and finish high school so they can be out on their own. On the other, they may be uncertain about what to do after high school. Your child needs your assurance that most teens have the same feelings.