A girl laughs as she taunts a boy with a strawberry.
Two boys snicker as they smear a spoonful of peanut butter across another boy’s arm.
A girl spits out the food she just bit into when the lady across from her informs her that it contains walnuts. The lady laughs and tells her it was all a joke.
A teenage boy contemplates taking a bite of the tuna fish sandwich dangling in front of him to prove he’s not a wuss.
Welcome to the world of allergy bullying.
As if physical, verbal, and cyberbullying weren’t enough to worry about, children and teenagers living with food allergies also have to protect themselves against bullying that involves allergy-inducing foods.
Regardless of the type of bullying, the instigator is always looking for a way to gain power or control over an individual he or she deems weaker or inferior. Kids who have food allergies fit that bill and are increasingly finding themselves targeted in dangerous ways.
The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI) conducted a study among 353 children and teens with food allergies. Of those young people studied, a full 79% had experienced teasing, harassment, or bullying associated with their food allergies. What’s more, 57% reported situations in which someone touched them with the allergy-inducing food, waved the offending food in front of them, or threw food at them. Considering that some allergic reactions can be induced as a result of touching or inhaling the food, these statistics are scary to parents.
Absent adult intervention, children and teens must learn to protect themselves from such attacks. Kids victim should remain calm, even though the threat of anaphylaxis may be real. Demonstrating fear or anger will only provoke the bully. An auto injector should be close at hand at all times, and children who have severe allergies should know how to self-administer if necessary. Having a strong group of friends who understand the severity of the allergy and can help stand up for the child is also important. Even one friend who alerts a nearby adult to the danger can make a difference. Teens should understand that giving in to peer pressure and tasting even a tiny bit of the taunted food is never a good idea. Even though teenagers often feel invincible, trace amounts of an allergen can cause a severe reaction or death.
Experts disagree on the reasons bullying has become such a widespread epidemic. Regardless, teasing, taunting, and harassing children with food allergies can be deadly. Adults need to be vigilant, and children with allergies need to be prepared. It’s no laughing matter.