When you think of being bullied, you might envision a scenario in your mind: two kids standing around on the playground; one smaller in stature and timid, the other child older, more burly, and more aggressive than the former. You picture the larger child shoving the smaller one while simultaneously hurling insults at him. Perhaps, you might imagine a sweet little girl having her pigtail pulled by one of the mean girls of a clique.
It was the perfect day to have an outdoor play date. Not too hot, but not too cool either. It was nice and breezy out. I wished we had thought to bring a kite. I sat and watched as Chop, his sister Journey, and a friend played together in the open grassed area. They all squealed happily with laughter and leaped as high as they could to try and catch the bubbles that I blew in their direction. The little girl’s mom reached inside her bag and handed her Doritos. I passed Chop and Journey some Enjoy Life brand chocolate chip cookies. The little girl turned to Chop and slyly taunted, “Ha, ha! You can’t eat any of these!” while waving her cheesy Doritos in the air. “And you’re not being very nice,” replied Chop assertively. I felt badly for Chop for what some might have identified as him “being teased”. I knew the possible repercussions that could result from her jeering, if it was something that continued to happen without somehow addressing it.
Bullying has raised many concerns with its recent trend in news headlines. It has formerly been described as name calling and physical aggression, but it can also pose itself in many other forms. Categories of bullying are often labeled as being physical, verbal, and even online cyberbullying. However, bullying is not limited to these modes.
Food allergy bullying is a form of bullying that is on the incline and far too common amongst children who are affected by food allergies. Food allergies affect approximately 1 in 13 children, roughly two per classroom, in the United States. The Food Allergy Research and Education organization, also known as FARE, reports that for every three children who suffer with food allergies, at least one of them has been bullied because of his or her allergies. Recent studies have suggested that many young victims of food allergy bullying generally do not report the act to parents or teachers.
The effects of bullying can leave many negative and long-term impressions, especially on today’s youth. A common myth is that bullying is only demonstrated with physical aggression, but this is not always the case. It can also be presented to victims in passive-aggressive manners. There have been several cases where individuals have reported that their having food allergies has left them feeling ridiculed or even threatened by others. Foods containing their allergens have also been used to humiliate them. Both peers and adults alike have been contributors to the mishaps of food allergy bullying.
Peter Rabbit, a fictional book character brought to the main screen by Sony Pictures, highlighted a controversial food allergy scene which prompted many parents to boycott the blockbuster. The film company responded with this statement:
“Food allergies are a serious issue. Our film should not have made light of Peter Rabbit’s arch nemesis, Mr. McGregor, being allergic to blackberries, even in a cartoonish, slapstick way. We sincerely regret not being more aware and sensitive to this issue, and we truly apologize.”
As with any form of bullying, parents, teachers, and caregivers should pay attention and learn the signs that a child might be experiencing bullying. It can cause mental anguish, stress, and anxiety and can even be fatal. Signs that a child is being bullied might include, but are not limited to:
- Isolation or withdrawal in group settings
- Nervousness, especially around particular individuals
- Talking of suicide or hopelessness
- Avoiding school or social settings
- Injuries or damage to property that are unexplained
- Sadness or any signs of anxiety or depression
There are several ways to address food allergy bullying. Education is the first step in taking a stance. Children with food allergies should always be encouraged to speak openly not only about the food allergies they have, but also if they are experiencing difficulties with accommodations or bullying. It is important that children feel heard and have a sense of trust in an adult to appropriately advocate for them. Schools and childcare organizations should also consider establishing policies and procedures that include food allergy bullying.
Preparing your child with a plan of action should bullying occur empowers him/her. Teach that it is okay to be assertive and direct in asking for the bullying to discontinue and to report to the proper personnel or adult in charge. Educating your child’s friends, too, about the severity of food allergies is important. Friends who have knowledge become great advocates. Explain to non-food allergy kids about the dangers associated with food allergies. Lastly, make sure your child is familiar with action plans for allergic reactions, should they occur.
For anti-bullying campaigns and resources, visit:
Tanisha Foster, a savvy and ambitious STEM & health educator and community organizer, is the founder of Chop Friendly. She started Chop Friendly in 2018, after teaching her family, friends, and those caring for her toddler son how to offer safe, allergy-free foods to include him. Tanisha is now promoting food allergy awareness and inclusion and providing education and tools to schools, day cares, restaurants, and other families locally in the Birmingham metro area. An alum of Create Birmingham’s CO.STARTERS program, UAB, and the University of Alabama, this health ed mom-preneur is using her experience to provide research-based curriculum to decrease incidences of food allergy-related cases.