Bullies, Food Allergies and The Force

What happens when the light saber Epi-Pen is out of reach?
By now if you have an internet connection, you've probably heard the story of Katie and her Star Wars thermos.  Right after the recent rash of teen suicides caused by brutal bullying of LGBT youth, Katie's mom discovered her 1st grade daughter was being teased daily at lunch time because her choice of lunch gear wasn't pink enough.  Fortunately her mom recognized the problem for what it was and didn't let it slide.

Then the girl geeks of the internet found out about Katie.  The cavalry, as they say, had arrived.

Those of us with children with food allergies are already painfully aware that lunch table bullying can be devastating.  Sabrina Shannon, the Canadian eighth grader who died of anaphylaxis because she didn't have her Epi-Pen with her, had stopped carrying the bag containing it after being teased about it at school.

A few months ago the first study about bullying of food allergic kids came out.  It found that a whopping "35 percent of children with food allergies, who are over the age of five, were reported to have experienced bullying, teasing, or harassment as a result of their allergies.  Of those experiencing teasing or harassment, 86 percent were reported to have experienced repeated episodes."  The bullying was both verbal and physical, with 43% of the children reporting that they had had food they were allergic to waved in their faces.  The worst part?  "[M]ore than 20 percent reported harassment or teasing from teachers and other school staff."

That's right, school employees charged with protecting our incredibly vulnerable children are some of the bullies who belittle and diminish them.  I used to find it difficult to believe that an education or medical professional would deliberately use words that would damage or endanger a child.  Not anymore.  (I'm looking at you,
Dr. Bahna.)

Even if nothing happens today, that kind of emotional damage festers.  The teenage years, when peer pressure and rebelliousness reach their zenith, are the most dangerous for food allergic kids.  For parents, that means our job isn't just to keep our children safe now, but to teach them to keep themselves safe later AND do it in such a way that our kids don't rebel against the constant emphasis on safety.

By the way, just one mistake can be fatal.  Have I mentioned the shocking levels of stress in parents of children with food allergies?

So this morning I dressed my son in one of his Star Wars t-shirts and talked to him about Katie and how it's ok to be different and not ok to tease or bully someone else.  I packed  an allergen free lunch, gave him hugs and kisses, told him I loved him and sent him off to school with a prayer that he would come home safely, something I never take for granted.

To the kids with food allergies and their parents, may the force be with you.  You're going to need it.


Raising a Sensitive Child said...

Wow -- those statistics made me sad. My son is only four, so isn't in school yet. We're considering other schooling options, which we're hoping will minimize the chances of him being bullied. We'll even consider homeschooling, if bullying becomes a problem.

Kyle Dine said...

I also was disappointed by the study results. I am a 20-something with allergies and have experienced teasing in my life. It's so difficult to deal with as every bully is different. I have had success by just being confident about my allergies, using humor, and focusing on the positives/why I'm unique.

Role playing these types of teasing scenarios can be helpful in preparation if it ever does happen. Hopefully as awareness continues to grow, this will become more of a rare issue.

Alisa Fleming said...

This is a great post Libby. Sad but true on the bullying front, but for food allergic kids it's downright dangerous. Absolutely loved Katie's story.

Jen said...

It super frustrates me that children with clinical challenges like allergies, depression and other maladies are going through the education system with little or no support from faculty. Much less to mention hazing and bullying from peers. I was reading this article about a study of diabetic kids
and in light of the severity of what could happen if peanuts or something along that lines got into a food sensitive child's lunch I was pretty alarmed by the lengths the kids go to and at what percentage to hide their condition.

Allergy Foodie said...

Fabulous article. This is one thing I am most in fear of - my little one started off being allergic to all the top 8 food allergens and more. Chidren just dont understand the consequences of their actions and sometimes it becomes lethal - feel totally at a loss at handling this issue :-(