To American society, bullying is nothing new. There is a few children bullied about everything from the simply trivial to the absolutely fatal. According to the “Pediatrics” journal, nearly one third of children with food allergies are bullied for it. And the results, as one would expect of bullying, are deplorable.
Researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai did a recent study and found that almost 8% of children in the U.S. are allergic to foods such as peanuts, tree-nuts, milk, eggs, and shellfish. Nearly 50% of the parents surveyed were not aware that their children were being bullied. Even so, both the children and their parents experienced higher stress levels and lower quality of life.
Most of the bullying related in the 2010 study was verbal, but children reported physical acts too. Among these were having the “allergen weapon” thrown or waved at them, or having their food intentionally contaminated with the allergen. Most of the bullying took place at school or by classmates, but 21% of the time, teachers or school staff were the perpetrators!
An example of this is when a child is singled out when a teacher says, “We’re going to have a birthday party today but we’re not going to have any cake because “Johnny” has food allergies.”#
Thomas Garrow was one such child. According to Eve Becker, writer of the article Food Allergy Bullying, “Second grade should have been the year of learning about dinosaurs, outer space and multiplication. Instead, second grade quickly turned into a year of horrors.” Garrow, allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, wheat, and milk, had an Individualized Healthcare Plan, but adherence to his was gone, along with a sense of classroom control due to long-term substitute teachers who may have known about his special needs. The teachers who could have helped Garrow, were always transient, due to his permanent teacher being on a year-long medical leave. Garrow’s mother, Eleanor, asked that Thomas be transferred to another class, but was consistently denied, and the bullying grew worse. “They would hit him and call him names,” Garrow said. “They also bullied him because of his food allergies, where they chased him on the playground with pebble rocks and said they were peanuts and were going to smear them all over his face. They took his medicine bag from him, because he carries his own epinephrine auto-injector and has ever since kindergarten. They took his lunch bag from him, even though that’s the only food he could eat.”#
Dr. Eyal Shemesh, MD, is the Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at the Ichan School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “Parents and pediatricians should routinely ask children with food allergies about bullying,” said Dr. Shemesh. It is suggested that finding out about the child’s experience might allow for targeted interventions and it is expected to reduce additional stress as well as improve the quality of life for children trying to manage their food allergies. The results of this study are hoped to raise awareness of bullying for parents, physicians, and school personnel to identify and address bullying in society, especially in schools,” said Dr. Shemesh.#
This story and others may come as no surprise to many of us. Bullying is one of the highest ranked problems in society, and if left unchecked, it can breed even more horrible violence as the children grow into adults.
Bullying children with allergies is especially serious because the bullies know where the victim is vulnerable and how they can effectively harm them. These statistics and stories should not terrify parents but inspire them to stand against the injustice wrought especially in the school system and not allow both their children and others to be victimized.
Bullying is a cause for lack of self-confidence, low self-esteem, low level of quality of life and high level of stress in a school child’s life. It has become more and more increasingly responsible for a truly daunting number of adolescent injuries and deaths. We can help by talking to our children, becoming more involved, more proactive, and stronger in our societal convictions roles. We, working together for the greater good, can indeed make a difference. If you believe someone is getting bullied in any form, please get the authorities involved, ask if your children are getting bullied and if they feel safe. If they don’t, then take action. If it’s allergy related, make sure they have their medications available in order to treat themselves or get treated in case of exposure. This type of treatment cannot be tolerated. Remember, we can all make a difference and there’s strength in numbers, but if there’s going to be numbers… we’ve got to show!
Sources of Information:
Common Health; Article: A Third of Kids With Food Allergies Bullied: What Grown-Ups Can Do
Article by Carey Goldberg
News Medical; Article: Children diagnosed with Food Allergies Experience Bullying,
Living Without; Article:Food Allergy Bullying
Article by Eve Becker