At last Sunday’s FARE event in Westchester, I was talking about the challenges of independence and food allergies with the teen group, ages 12 and up.
A seventh grader told us a story about being bullied by some eighth graders about the epinephrine autoinjector pack he used to wear around his waist (now he carries his autoinjectors in his backpack).
“So,” I asked. “Were these eight graders targeting you because of food allergies or because they were just mean eighth graders?”
“Just mean eighth graders. And my best friend stepped up and told them to back off and they did.”
It’s an excellent story that illustrates two very important points that I explored with the teens.
Mean kids exist. And it doesn’t change when you get older. My exact quote was: “I wish I could tell you that when you get older, everyone is nicey nice. But I can’t; mean adults exist, too. Bullies are everywhere, at school, at work, at college – everywhere. And we all have to learn how to stand up and advocate for ourselves. This isn’t simply about food allergies; it’s about navigating the larger world. And the sooner you and your family talk through ways to do this that work for you right now, the better.”
Point two: best friends exist in the world, too. They are your allies, your safety nets; they stick up for you when you feel you can’t, they protect you when you feel down. And you protect them in turn. The sooner you and your family identify those friends who are non-judgmental, kind, open and have your backs and partner with them, also the better.
Every teen in the room identified that they had safe besties who had their backs, some who even advocated on their behalf.
And this seventh grader's story illustrated perfectly how to frame the conversation: when we talk about bullies, we must talk about not merely who is trying to kick you down but who is there to lift you up.
What I as a food allergy counselor suggest you can do: help your children identify the hallmark behavioral characteristics of the meanies and the benchmarks of the safeties. It will be a skill they will use for the rest of their lives.