The Scary Way My Kid's Food Allergies Can Be Used Against Him

child holding peanut
 iStock.com/Mypurgatoryyears

If you're the parent of a child with severe food allergies (as I am), then you know what it's like to live with the constant fear of your kid being exposed to an otherwise innocent snack that will send him to the emergency room. But, if you're not an allergy mom, chances are you have no idea the risks kids with food allergies face every day, including a disturbing new trend in which bullies are threatening kids like mine with the very foods that could literally kill them.

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A piece in the Washington Post shows a disturbing trend in bullies using food allergies against their victims. In a 2015 incident, kids threw peanuts at a fifth grade boy in the Los Angeles area with severe nut allergies. The boy asked them to stop, telling them "It could kill me" -- but the bullies didn't stop. Instead, when the boy turned away, they hid peanuts in his lunch container. Thankfully, a friend of the boy saw what the bullies were trying to do and threw the container in the garbage before it was too late -- but if not for that loyal pal, the boy could've ended up in the hospital, or worse.

More from CafeMom: 10 Things Never to Say to a Mom of a Kid With Food Allergies

Horrifyingly, episodes like this one are on the rise. According to one 2010 study, the harassment of kids with food allergies is "common, frequent, and repetitive," while another 2013 study found that 31 percent of children said they'd been bullied specifically because of food allergies  -- an especially cruel trend considering how much these kids and their families have to deal with in the first place. And it's not just young children who are at risk: Earlier this year, a freshman at Central Michigan University with life-threatening allergies was the subject of a terrifying hazing incident when a fellow student smeared peanut butter on his face while he slept. (A fraternity member is being charged with a misdemeanor as a result.)

Having a child with severe nut allergies, I feel that stories like these are enough to give me a panic attack. My first reaction is to wonder how people can be so thoughtless and mean -- don't they realize that in these cases, teasing can amount to murder?

But then I remember ... no, they probably don't realize. Because until severe food allergies are something you have to deal with firsthand, you don't know. Until you have to rush your toddler to the ER in an ambulance because he accidentally ate a tiny piece of a peanut M&M and can't stop throwing up and breaking out in hives, you don't know. Until you get a panicked phone call from your kid's friend's house because your son ate a cookie that turned out to have cashews in it and now he can't breathe, you don't know. Until you've seen emergency room doctors rip your kid's shirt off to administer a life-saving dose of epinephrine, you simply don't understand: These allergies are life or death. And knowing that at any moment a seemingly harmless slip-up could take your child's life is a terrifying reality to live with.

More from CafeMom: Heartless Bullies Are Preying on Kids With Food Allergies in the Worst Way Possible

Look, I get it. I get that if you don't know any kids like mine, the anti-allergy precautions many schools and classrooms take might seem like overkill. "Why do so many people have allergies all of a sudden? I don't buy it" is a comment I've heard far too often. It stems from ignorance, not malice, but in this case, ignorance can kill. And when parents have an attitude of dismissal or disbelief about allergies, how can we expect kids to take it seriously? How can we expect them to understand that throwing peanuts at another student could literally kill him?

Teachers can sometimes make the situation worse, too, by singling allergic kids out as the only ones who can't have a cupcake for a classmate's birthday (though I have encountered some truly fabulous teachers who were careful to work out plans with me in advance involving backup treats). 

I'm not sure how to fix this problem, but I believe that raising awareness about how potentially lethal food allergies can be will help. Maybe we need to have more assemblies in schools educating kids on the dangers of exposing allergic kids to certain foods. Maybe we need to have a day where everybody wears brown or dresses up like Mr. Peanut on social media to spread the message. Seriously, whatever it takes! Bullying is bad enough, but this kind of bullying has lethal consequences and it has to stop.

One silver lining to the story of the boy who had peanuts thrown at him, at least, is the friend who stepped in and threw the peanuts away -- who was later recognized at a school assembly about food allergies and bullying. My 11-year-old son is lucky to have friends like that child, who are always watching out to make sure that food at parties and school functions is safe for him to eat. We need to focus on making sure that more kids follow their lead.

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