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Dec/Jan 2013 Issue
Food Allergy Bullying
Kids who are bullied need to feel support from their families, says Kenton Duty, who stars in the Disney Channel series, “Shake It Up!” and who has been active in anti-bullying campaigns.
“What they need is some comfort. They need someone they can talk to, who can at least tell them, ‘You’re doing a good job putting up with it and we’re going to stop this.’ Knowing someone cares about you is huge.”
But not all kids have supportive adults in their lives.
“There are a lot of problems with how bullying is dealt with in general. A lot of people are like, ‘Kids will be kids. It happens,’” Duty says. “Well, it doesn’t have to happen. Adults can monitor it and make it safe for these kids.”
Duty, 17, is allergic to chocolate and wheat. As a celebrity ambassador to FAAN, he’s talked to students at FAAN summits, giving advice on how to speak up about bullying, especially if you have food allergies.
Kids with food allergies can feel vulnerable because they have to carry or wear bulky allergy medications like epinephrine auto-injectors.
“If you carry your EpiPen on you, it’s this big, clunky thing and everybody knows you have food allergies. A lot of kids don’t want to carry it, so they’ll throw it in their locker or they just won’t take it to school because they don’t want people seeing that visual reminder of their food allergies. But if it’s in their locker or they don’t bring it because they don’t want to get bullied or teased about it—if they’re in anaphylactic shock, it’s big trouble.”
Duty is tall now but for many years, he was one of the shortest kids in his class and he’d get bullied because of it.
“What helped me was I had family and friends who backed me up. My friends always stood by me,” he says.
He’s also been teased because of his food allergies, with kids waving chocolate treats in his face.
“Yeah, I’ve been through that. Everybody with food allergies goes through it,” he says. “There are people who’ll take advantage of you to try to make themselves feel better.”
Many people just don’t understand the severity of food allergies, says Duty’s father, Jeff Duty.
“If there are chocolate cupcakes, they’ll put one under his nose and say, ‘You can’t have it.’ It happens more times than I would’ve guessed—even at his age,” Jeff Duty says about his son’s experiences. “The parents don’t get it and the kids don’t get it. They think they’re being funny. I’ve tried talking to the parents, even the kids, and some don’t think anything is wrong. If we can’t educate them, we just have to remove ourselves from that particular situation and know that it’s nothing personal. It’s just the way some people are. Don’t stick around to let them continue doing it.”