What effect can facial palsy have on a teenager?
For a teenager who is on the path to adulthood and just starting to find their identity in life, living with the effects of facial palsy can be devastating.
Commonly reported problems include:
- Low self-worth and lack of self-confidence.
- Poor self-image and a belief that they look worse than they do.
- A feeling of being incomplete, not a whole person.
- Feelings of isolation and being alone with their problems.
- A sense of grief, either for the face they should have had, or the face they have lost.
- Emotional conflicts: for example, they may quash feelings of laughter to hide their differences.
- They can become extremely guarded and feel unable to fully relax and join in with their peers.
- They may try to hide their face, for example, by growing their hair over the affected area or they may use their hand to cover their mouth when laughing or talking.
- They may become reclusive.
- If they cannot smile at all or their speech is affected then communication can be more difficult, people may assume they are unfriendly or have a lack of intelligence.
- Anxiety and depression can become a problem
Teenage experience: ‘I became quite depressed, and wish that I had had a support group when I was a teenager. Because I honestly thought I was the only one in the world with a stupid eye and a wonky face! Just knowing there were other people out there going through all the stuff that I was going through at that time would have been a massive help.’
Teenage experience: ‘I had a happy childhood. I was lucky never to be bullied. But I hated having my picture taken.’
How can you support an older child or teenager with facial paralysis?
- Don’t underestimate the amount of emotional support they need. Communicate with them openly about their facial palsy, being careful not to make them feel different. Find out more about the emotional issues faced by someone with facial palsy.
- Remember it is important to be empathetic, this means to try to put oneself in the other person’s shoes and understand their situation. A teenager with facial palsy wants someone to understand their emotional and physical issues, but they don’t necessarily want you to feel sorry for them, because this can make them feel inferior.
- Sometimes parents feel guilty and mistakenly believe it is somehow their fault that their child has facial palsy. Children with facial palsy will pick up on these uncomfortable feelings and may choose not to share their real feelings with their parents, because they don’t want to upset them. If a parent is feeling guilty, it is important to keep the lines of communication open rather than avoid discussing things.
- Support them with the physical issues associated with facial palsy; for example, if their eye or eyes are affected then ensure they are using sufficient lubrication. See dry eye patient guide for more information. Ensure you understand all of the physical issues associated with their facial palsy.
- Enable and encourage them to meet other people with a similar condition, this is sometimes the most effective way to show someone that they do not look as bad as they imagine.
- Help them to access specialist health services at every stage, even if they seem partially recovered, your satisfaction with their recovery may not mirror their own.
- Ensure they are involved in any decisions taken regarding surgery and that everything is fully explained to them. Be careful not to make the child feel that they need to be fixed.
- Network with other parents of children with facial palsy for your own support.
- Teenagers who choose to wear make-up may require guidance. Some cosmetics will make facial palsy more noticeable so they should be applied with care. Correctly applied make-up can make facial palsy less obvious.
- Encourage your child not to hide their smile.
- Build their confidence as much as you can.
Secondary school experience: ‘In my teenage years I started getting bullied at school and that combined with my facial palsy definitely changed my personality during those years. I became much less confident, withdrawn, and although I had some fantastic friends who loved me for myself, I felt so alone. Looking back, I definitely should have got some more support from somewhere, counselling or something but as a teen you don’t think about that. As far as my parents could tell, I was doing okay. (I’m quite a good actress when I want to be!)’
Last reviewed: 16-02-2020 || Next review due: 01-08-2020