Bullying is damaging for anyone to endure, but when students are bullied because of their food allergies, the consequences can be life-threatening.
Whether it’s carrying an epinephrine auto-injector in a visible location, or constantly reminding people about your food allergy, this condition can make it difficult to blend in, explained Dylan Brennan, who has spoken out about allergy bullying for an awareness campaign. “You just sort of stand out among the crowd,” he said.
And standing out, as Dylan discovered, can make children with food allergies a target for bullies.
Studies show that children with food allergies are twice as likely to be bullied compared to non-allergic children. Research also suggests that approximately one-third of food-allergic children have been bullied specifically because of their allergies.
One day in 4th grade, Brennan became part of this statistic. Brennan and his brother, who both have peanut and tree nut allergies, were on the bus to school when another child starting causing a commotion.
“This kid was somewhat of a troublemaker and my brother and I were going back and forth with him exchanging words. As it escalated, he reached into his bag and pulled out a peanut butter sandwich and waved it around taunting us and saying, ‘What are you gonna do about it now?’” Brennan said. “He had the upper hand. We didn’t know what to do.”
Luckily, there were a few rows of seats separating the Brennan brothers from the bully. Sitting in those seats were their friends, who stepped in.
Brennan recalls them saying: “What are you doing? That could kill him!” When the bus arrived at school, those friends informed the principal of what had happened.
Brennan, now 24 and a college student who lives outside of Toronto, says that to this day, his friends remain his biggest supporters – always vigilant for any potential triggers for his allergies. “It’s just having strength in numbers,” Brennan says. “You’re not alone anymore trying to face the issue.”
While this incident made Brennan more confident in his friends, it also made him aware of bullying and the need to better educate people about food allergies.
“The bully had no idea that it could kill me, he learned that after-the-fact. It just gave me a general heightened awareness that I need to be a more proactive with my allergy,” he said. Brennan was part of a team of young adults speaking out about their experience with bullying and encouraging others to take action.
For students being bullied because of their allergies, this team recommends:
- Telling a teacher or parents if you’re being bullied. Don’t be afraid, they can help.
- Let the bully know that what they’re doing is not “OK.”
- Have a buddy system. Use your friends as support.
- Be open about your food allergies and how serious they are.
- Try and educate bullies and help them better understand the seriousness of this condition.
- Last but not least, always carry your epinephrine auto-injector.
Brennan’s message to bullies is to seriously reconsider their actions. “As a bully, you have to understand that that is way beyond ‘playground fun.’ It is a life-threatening situation.”
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