In a recent study, one that is a first to look at the social impact of food allergies, Mt. Sinai Medical Center in NYC found that 35 percent of children over the age of five have experienced teasing, harrassment, or bullying because of their allergy.
It gets worse. “Of those experiencing teasing or harassment, 86 percent were reported to have experienced repeated episodes. Classmates were the most common perpetrators, but surprisingly more than 20 percent reported harassment or teasing from teachers and other school staff.” Adults teasing kids? That’s nuts.
My oldest daughter has a severe peanut allergy, so this study upsets me, but not for the reason you would think. You see, I’m upset by it because I have seen quite a different reaction from her peers when it comes to her allergy.
I can’t tell you how many times one of her friends asked his parents not to give him anything with peanuts in it so he can sit with her at lunch. Or the time a friend made sure her birthday cake was safe for my daughter to eat. Or the friend who refused to eat peanut butter before his playdate with her. I’ve seen quite a lot of compassion from these 6-year-olds.
That’s not to say that teasing or a lack of understanding hasn’t happened. There was the jerky kid in preschool who did wave his pb&j sandwich near her face to scare her, but that kid was constantly in trouble and teased and bullied anyone. And I have had numerous conversations with adults who still don’t get it and think I’m blowing her allergy out of proportion. They can’t understand that she can’t have the cake made in a bakery that uses peanuts, even though there aren’t any peanuts IN it.
These things have been rare though. Food allergies are so common these days, that kids understand them and it’s not such a big deal. Just last weekend we were at a birthday party and when it was time for cake and my daughter pulled out her cupcake instead of eating a slice like everyone else, the kids around her asked why. She told them about her allergy and they all understood and dug into their cake. No big deal and no teasing.
Sadly, bullying goes on too frequently. I don’t expect her to sail through school without ever being teased, but I’m not so sure she will be singled out because of her allergy.
Has your child been teased because of his food allergy?