Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Latest Food Allergy News: Teasing, Bullying and What to Do About It

Stories on food allergy bullying starting making the rounds of the major news outlets over the holiday, and recently the journal Pediatrics released a study regarding food allergy bullying and its potential to impact the lives of kids with food allergies, and their families. Here is the link to that story.

Bullying is very serious and many kids have to cope with it, not just those with food allergies. What makes food allergy bullying especially dangerous is that some kids use food in aggression against other kids, and that can be hazardous to their health and might even endanger their lives. For example, pushing a peanut butter sandwich in an allergic child's face or threatening to do so.

Obviously, any bullying that turns physical must be dealt with immediately and stopped. Stop Bullying is a website that addresses bullying on every level including how schools can work to prevent bullying, what kids can do to stop bullying and signs that your child is being bullied. Many schools have a no tolerance for bullying policy. This should definitely include food allergies so if you have concerns, don’t hesitate to speak with school officials. Stop Bullying's site has guidelines for working with your school.

According to the Pediatrics article, about half of kids do not report the bullying, so you will want to watch your child for signs that they might be having a problem. The Stop Bullying site offers a list of possible symptoms that your child is being bullied. (Not every kid with these symptoms is being bullied, but the list offers a good place to start and can spark discussion with your child.)

The fear of being bullied or teased makes some parents and kids afraid to reveal the allergy to anyone. To me that is a very unfortunate side effect because it has been proven that food allergy awareness helps in an emergency and can save a life. If a kid feels ashamed of their allergies, ironically, that may make them more likely to be bullied.  Plus, kids ashamed of their allergies might not want to speak up, advocate for themselves or carry life-saving medications. Better to anticipate this and help your child work through their feelings and role play some responses if they find themselves in a situation where they are bullied.

Teasing and unkind comments are another story. Not all kids with food allergies will be bullied physically, but I would hazard to guess that many kids with food allergies are subjected to verbal remarks, teasing and sometimes unkind comments. I wrote about post about teasing and food allergies that you can read by clicking here. (Food allergy-friendly company and friends, Tasterie, shared my past post on their own blog today, so thanks for spreading the word, Tasterie!)

Teasing and taunting is upsetting and of course, it can always escalate into physical bullying, so I really like Stop Bullying’s suggestions to help parents stop bullying before it can really even get started. A confident, prepared kid will be able to help stop bullying too.

What is your experience with teasing or bullying? What did you do about it?


Megan said...

Enjoyed reading your post. As a 20-something with multiple food allergies, I'm lucky to have never experienced food bullying in my childhood. Ironically, now I seem to get occasional teasing from a few select family members and friends. It doesn't bother me but it's more annoying that anything. Time for some new material! -Megan

Sara said...

No experience with bullying as of yet. My daughter is 5 and in a very supportive preschool. I was shocked yesterday to read the comment section when NPR posted a story about food allergies being protected under ADA at college and universities for the food service program. Some of the comments were horrible and made me fearful for how some of these people would treat my daughter if we encountered them in public.

Goody said...

I'm 45, and have been nut allergic since age two. I can't think of a single instance of being bullied by other children, but I was consistently harassed by family members, other adults, etc. that thought I was a "picky eater."

My eight year old son is allergic to both peanuts, and tree nuts. Because we homeschool we're spared the school bully bit (and dealing with administrators). I'm sure he'll eventually run up against something at an activity, or the on the playground, but honestly, I'm more concerned about the dangers posed by adults that, "Don't believe in food allergies."

All that said, *most* people we know (we live in a small farming community)are really kind, and understanding. It is easy to read the comments on a web article and think the world is full of awful people-I'm certainly guilty of it. Easier to notice the horrible people, but I try to believe they aren't representative of the greater whole.

Jenny said...

Goody, I totally agree. Most people we meet are very helpful and kind, and we are always grateful for that. Comments on Internet boards used to bother me, too, until I realized that they are generally visited by "trolls" who seek to take over comments boards by posting inflammatory comments. Seriously--it's a hobby for some people. Read any message board on any news site and you will see horrific comments on nearly every story. It can be very nasty and it does affect parents who are researching on the Internet and/or new to nut allergies, but don't worry about it. In my e-book I even caution parents not to read message boards. Don't worry, just avoid the "trolls." :)

Anonymous said...

My 8 year old has been bullied twice this school year by students and his teacher, which ultimately resulted in us getting him moved to a new classroom. His teacher called him weirdo and refused to get rid of nut foods used as part of the reward system in the classroom. One of the students placed a peanut butter sandwich on his "safe" table and told him not to worry that he would die soon. An adult witnessed that situation, but it wasn't reported to us or other appropriate staff. Last week another student in his new classroom squirted water from a bottle on him and told him that peanuts were in it. He was crushed, this was a "friend". I'm overwhelmed with a lot of emotion around this whole situation and just wish that it was different. No kid should have to deal with this stuff.