One in three kids who struggle with food allergies is most likely bullied, harassed, or teased because of their condition, a new assessment by the Children's National Hospital has shown.
According to the report, while bullying is already a problem among young people, having food allergies increases their threats by 17 percent. Of the children surveyed for the research, 31 percent said that they did experience attacks by bullies just because of their food sensitivities and aversions to certain food and ingredients.
More than a hundred kids with food allergies, between the ages of nine to 15, were asked to answer the survey, where the experts confirmed that only 12 percent told their parents about their experiences. According to lead study author Linda Herbert, the results also showed why parents or carers have no idea that bullying is a major problem for kids with food allergies, and this should raise some alarm bells.
Open Dialogue with the Kids
The researchers explained that food allergies are automatic roadblocks for children, so they do not need bullying to pile up on the challenges they face every single day. Herbert advised parents and carers to actively check on their kids by regularly talking about their experiences in school, especially in scenarios that involve food.
The expert said it might help to ask open-ended questions instead of directly asking the kids if they are being bullied because of food allergies. Herbert said parents could ask about who they spent lunch or recess with or how the school party went to better understand the child's experiences.
If the parents assessed that bullying did happen, they might involve school officials and the other parents, then make it clear to the children that this should not be tolerated. Teachers and staff members are also encouraged to respond to bullying incidents immediately. They also have to educate the kids about the serious health threats in people with food allergies.
Minneapolis mom, Kristin, who is also the director of the Anaphylaxis and Food Allergy Association of Minnesota, said that she teaches her son who has food allergies to be a self-advocate. This way, Vincent, her 16-year-old boy, could stand up for himself with the confidence to state what he wants to say to other people.
Additionally, parents should watch for other signs that the child is struggling with bullying but might not yet be ready to talk about it. Some of the signs may include a decline in school performance, social withdrawal, and less enthusiasm about participating in school activities.
Parents Are Also Bullied
In 2020, the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology learned in a study that bullies also target one in five parents of children with food allergies from various sources. In a survey of over 250 parents, 17 percent said they encountered incidents with the offender or the offender's parents after speaking about their children's situation.
Dr. Ruchi Gupta, who led the research, said that no parent or child should be ridiculed and bullied because of their condition. Food allergies bring "tremendous stress" on the family, and bullying makes this so much harder.
He said schools should have a management plan that includes more education from primary care doctors or allergists. The school should also assess the kids' experiences with their peers and invite parents to regular dialogues.
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