Bullies in the Classroom
Joseph, my 7-year-old son who has multiple, severe food allergies, finds it incomprehensible that one child would threaten or hurt another just because they are somehow different. When we discussed the news that food-allergic kids are often targets of bullying, I watched fear wash over his face and fill his big, brown eyes. I reassured him, of course, and I continue to do all I can to protect him--but the findings are troubling.
This new study on allergies and bullying, conducted by Mount Sinai School of Medicine, found that about 35 percent of food-allergic children over the age of 5 reported being bullied, teased or harassed because of their food allergies. Published in the October issue of Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, the study also revealed that 20 percent reported being harassed or teased by teachers or other school staff members.
Thankfully, my son has not yet been the target of bullies, but he has endured his share of insensitive comments from adults and kids.
People don't mean to hurt his feelings when they make a big deal about how different his diet is compared to "normal" kids, or when they ask, with much incredulousness, "what in the world can you eat?"
But these types of comments leave their mark on a kid who’s just trying to enjoy his life while managing his allergies. Joseph brushes off the comments because he knows the people usually just didn't know any better and, in his case, the remarks stemmed from well-meaning curiosity—not cruelty.
But I do wish folks were better informed. There are too many people who don’t take food allergies seriously, putting our children's lives at risk. I often hear of parents who blatantly disregard a policy prohibiting nuts in a preschool or who complain in front of the food-allergic child about having to bring a snack without a particular allergen. And the reports of bullying, such as a student waving a granola bar in the face of a food-allergic classmate or a high school kid smearing peanut butter on another teen, break my heart.
Kids with food allergies already carry the extra responsibility of super-vigilance and emergency medications. It’s challenging enough to avoid accidental exposure. They shouldn't have to be afraid of taunting or that their allergen will be used as a weapon against them. How frightening!
Thankfully, food-allergic children and their families can turn to local, national and online groups for support. There also are wonderful resources (such as the book One of the Gang by Gina Clowes and Canadian musician Kyle Dine's music about food allergies) to empower these kids and give them confidence in the face of people who just don't understand, or worse, who are malicious.
My hope is that the dialogue about bullying, along with the educational efforts from local support groups and organizations, such as Living Without magazine, the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) and the Food Allergy Initiative (FAI), will successfully enlighten people to change attitudes and actions. Let’s work together to make it happen.