I’m a firm believer that there is much more good than bad in the world, but a recent article in The Washington Post about bullying kids with food allergies has me questioning my optimism.
“Bullies use a small but powerful weapon to torment allergic kids: Peanuts,” tells of incidents where children used peanuts to harass and bully allergic kids: Fifth graders who threw peanuts into an allergic classmate’s lunch box and college fraternity members who rubbed peanut butter on an allergic student’s face, resulting in his eyes swelling up. Sigh.
If you ask me, harass and bully aren’t the correct terms for what those kids did. It was assault. Having a peanut allergy can be life threatening, so what else do you call purposely exposing someone to something that can kill them? It certainly goes way beyond bullying.
As the mom of a teen with peanut and tree-nut allergies, it makes my heart hurt. Fellow parents of children with food allergies understand this. We have all encountered people who question our children’s allergies, don’t take them seriously, or get downright pissed off that our child’s life-threatening condition infringes on their kid’s right to eat a PB&J sandwich. It sucks, but we’re used to it and we try really hard to raise tough and resilient kids who can advocate for themselves.
Also, we know that bullying is not new. And that the emotional scars of being bullied can run deep. Thankfully, schools, mental health professionals, and parents are working hard to educate our children on how damaging bullying can be, but we need to make sure that our lessons on acceptance and kindness apply to every instance and every difference.
So here’s my plea to you fellow parents:
If you are a family with food allergies, please share your experiences with others. I know how easy it is to grow tired of going over it again and again — truly. And I know that sometimes people don’t take us seriously, which can be angering. But just as we are vigilant with our children’s lives, we need to be committed advocates to help make the lives of all children with food allergies better.
If you are a family who doesn’t have allergies, please listen to those who do. If your child’s school has a nut-free policy, respect it. Please understand that food allergies are extremely serious. But most of all, please know that kids with allergies often feel excluded, so teach your children to understand what it means to be a child with a food allergy.
If we work together to do that, we will raise kind, empathetic, and accepting kids. The kind who would never tease, or worse, harm another classmate.
And that thing I said about questioning my optimism? I take that back. Are you with me?