Hey folks, this is the first “guest post” on my blog. Thanks Juliette for this insightful article on some of the quality of life issues affecting children and teens – an area that I am personally drawn to. ~Kd
What is the biggest quality of life issue for children and teenagers with food allergies? A recent survey shows that surprisingly, it is not the food allergy symptoms that bother them so much. Most children and teens cope well with their food restrictions and understand that they must carry epinephrine shots and/or wear medical jewelry for safety. Unfortunately, the primary problem faced by many children and teenagers with food allergies is their worry of social isolation. After all, everyone wants to be accepted by his or her peer group and repeatedly being left out can be emotionally damaging.
Young children with food allergies have many challenges to face. As they reach school age, they have to start making their own choices and managing their allergies outside the safety of their own home and away from the supervision of their parents. Sometimes, having food allergies means you have to stand up to your peers because they don’t understand how dangerous some foods can be. One in four children report being bullied at school as a result of their allergies and shockingly, it is not just other children doing the bullying. Even staff and teachers have been known to be guilty of ignoring the requests of a food allergic child. Usually the bullying takes the form of verbal teasing or exclusion, but can go as far as children being made to touch food they are allergic to or being tricked into eating the foods which could be dangerous to them. Sometimes it is hard even for adults to understand how ‘ordinary’ food could be a danger and thus fail to respect the child’s needs. The good news is that thanks to people like Kyle, the word is spreading and more schools are improving their policies to be more accommodating and respond to complaints of bullying.
Sometimes, the stress of years of food allergies can lead older children and teenagers to make poor choices because of their fear of social isolation. Some teenagers admit that they have eaten risky foods because they want to fit in. While with others, the anxiety of social events can lead them to the opposite extreme of not eating at all when away from the safety and privacy of home. It is not just food-centered activities that are a challenge. Sports events may involve wearing clothes where there is nowhere to put the Epipen, meaning it might get left at home or in the locker.
No one wants to feel different and it takes a lot of courage to educate one’s peers. The biggest wish expressed by the teenagers surveyed was that their schools and peers could be better educated about food allergies. It is important for children with food allergies to develop the confidence to make safe and wise choices and to stick to them in the face of peer pressure. But then again, all children need to learn that skill, whether they have food allergies or not!
Guest Post by: Juliette S.