The two main characteristics of bullying are its repetitive nature and the implicit imbalance of power between bully and victim. The imbalance of power inherent in bullying refers to the victims’ perceptions that they cannot easily defend themselves or stop the interaction. As a result, victims are left feeling powerless and vulnerable, which often produces devastating psychological consequences. While bullying with regard to food allergies isn’t all that different from bullying about other attributes, children with food allergies must bear an additional burden, because they already have the responsibility of taking care of themselves medically.
When children have food allergies, their parents have to constantly watch out for allergens and be prepared for a possible reaction.
Another concern, and one that is often overlooked, is bullying. A new study, published online in the journal Pediatrics on Monday, found that more than 30 percent of children have been harassed by their classmates because of their allergies, and that parents are only aware of it about half of the time. “It’s very easy to intimidate a food-allergic child,” said study author Dr. Eyal Shemesh, chief of the division of behavioral and developmental health in the Department of Pediatrics at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. “It doesn’t take more than waving a peanut in front of them.”
The study also showed there is a significant gap in how much parents know about bullying — they only knew about 50 percent of the cases of harassment. When moms and dads did know about the bullying, their children reported a higher quality of life, which suggests that parents can help, Shemesh said.”Parents should ask, not in an alarming way, something like, ‘Do people bother you at school or anywhere? Do people bother you about the allergy?'” he said. Doctors, whether they are pediatricians or allergy specialists, should also be aware of possible food-related bullying and speak up.
Children with food allergies are being targeted by kids who harass them, sometimes by trying to expose them to the foods that they’re allergic to.
“Food allergies affect an estimated 12 million Americans, including 3 million children. These children face daily challenges in managing their food allergies,” said allergist Scott Sicherer, M.D., co-author of the study and a researcher at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at The Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, in a news release. Nearly four percent of children younger than 18 in the United States have food allergies, and that figure jumped 18 percent from 1997 to 2007. Peanut allergies rose from 0.4 percent of kids in 1997 to 1.4 percent in 2008, according to a previous study by Sicherer.
Children exposed to domestic violence frequently become bullies and/or victims, so whenever abuse in the home is suspected, bullying should also be considered as a co-occurring phenomenon. Youth who are brought to the doctor for physical injuries of unknown or questionable origin or for whom there are no identifiable physical causes of their complaints may be victims of abuse, either within the home and family or by bullies outside the family purview. Recognizing these warning signs and following up with pointed, but matter-of-fact, questions is a physician responsibility and a critical area of skill development for medical doctors.
Food allergy is a growing problem in young people. As many as 8% of children in the United States have at least one food allergy, according to research data. There is no cure for food allergies. The only way to stop a life-threatening reaction, called anaphylaxis, is an epinephrine auto-injector, which allergists recommend that everyone with severe food allergies should carry.
Allergists offer skin or blood tests to see what specific foods may cause reactions, but they cannot know how severe those reactions will be — some people may have only mild symptoms, while others may stop breathing.
Communication with teachers, administrators, coaches, and the school nurse is key to ensuring that a food-allergic child does well, in terms of staying safe from allergens and psychologically speaking, Bassett said.
It’s also important to talk to a child about bullying, which can have serious psychological consequences, such as anxiety, Bassett said. It’s harder to get teenagers to not take risks when it comes to avoiding problem foods and always carrying the epinephrine auto-injector, Bassett said.”Unfortunately the adolescent and child psyche is very sensitive to what people think and say and do,” he said.
Kellogg is proactive about getting Owen’s peers to understand his situation. Every school year, on the first day, Kellogg takes a book called “Allie the Allergic Elephant: A Children’s Story of Peanut Allergies.” The teacher reads this book to the children in the class so that they better understand what it means to have food allergies. She also brings allergy-safe treats to keep in the classroom so that Owen can have them if someone brings in unsafe sweets to celebrate a birthday. He carries an epinephrine auto-injector with him. Children who are overweight or have food allergies are more likely to be victims of bullying, indicate two new studies in a report from Reuters.
According to the research, children who were victims of bullying were also more likely to have an overall worse quality of life when compared to children who weren’t victimized. The studies support previous research noting the many negative side effects bullying can have on children.
Bullying can have serious negative, long-term physical, mental and emotional effects on children. Childhood bullying has been linked to high rates of depression, social anxiety, pathological perfectionism, and neuroticism in adulthood. While the severity of emotional pain felt with childhood bullying does appear to decrease over time, experts indicate the memories can rarely be forgotten.
For parents, conversation is an important step in preventing childhood bullying. Schuster told Reuters, “Parents whose kids have a food allergy should really be aware that their kids have the kind of characteristic that often leads to being bullied. They should be working with the school to handle the food allergy in a way that isn’t going to make it more likely that their kids will be bullied – and they need to be attuned to their kids.”
More than one-third of children with food allergies are harassed, teased or bullied about their condition, according to data reported in the October issue of Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
Classmates were the perpetrators 80 per cent of the time, and 21 per cent of those harassed were reported to have been singled out by teachers and school staff – however the actual number of those harassed by teachers and staff was low – only 18 individuals.