In an episode of the short-lived sitcom “Freaks and Geeks,” a high school freshman named Bill discusses his peanut allergy in English class. Later that day, in an effort to prove that he was lying, a bully sneaks peanuts into his sandwich during lunch period. The boy ends up in the hospital and nearly dies. Eventually, the bully visits his victim and bares his soul in a heartfelt apology as he thinks Bill is unconscious.
While this makes for effective drama, it isn’t nearly as fictitious as we would all hope. Allergy bullying is a real problem, and it is happening more frequently all the time. As it is, an already high percentage of children with food allergies are teased because of their condition. Studies have also shown that the percentage of individuals with food allergies is increasing over time. If things don’t change, this means there will be more victims feeling alienated or far worse.
Startlingly, many parents whose children don’t suffer from food allergies don’t care or are even confrontational about the subject. They don’t want to lend a sympathetic ear, support new dietary rules, or teach their children about bullying. They feel that children with food allergies should be homeschooled. It seems that a lack of kindness and understanding is plaguing multiple generations of Americans.
What can be done about this? Should it be mandatory to watch a DVD of “Freaks and Geeks” to teach us that individuals with food allergies are people too? While food allergy bullying may sound unimportant, the risk of bodily harm and death make it one of the most serious forms of bullying.
Meaningful communication and access to information are the keys to helping people understand food allergies. It is up to school administrators, parents, youth group leaders, and anyone in charge of children to be informed. Children with food allergies need to be taught about the necessary precautions they have to take. They will also need extra guidance to ensure that they develop the social skills to make friends to help them when needed.
A lesson to be gleaned from that episode of “Freaks and Geeks” is how Bill’s bully is portrayed sympathetically as a human being. When teaching a child about acceptance of people with different health concerns, it is paramount to avoid accusatory and disparaging language. In order for them to come around and embrace acceptance, they have to know that they too will be understood and accepted.