Parenting is a lot about choices. Picking battles that are worth it. Stumbling through things you never thought you would have to even think about and avoiding pitfalls along the way. Most of us question, sometimes daily, how in the heck we aren’t setting these kids up for anything but utter failure.
As an AP (allergy parent), the pitfalls seem to pop up more often and in unusual places. I used to worry about playgrounds: finding smashed Goldfish on the equipment, or an Uncrustable wrapper blowing past. Then as he got older, it was when things came up in school. Parties and surprise celebrations. “Oh, it’s an hour-long game, the children MUST have a snack.” It was annoying, but we’ve managed well. I can’t think of much of anything we haven’t done because of food allergies.
Lately, the pitfalls have shifted. It’s not because of his age, or the sports he plays, or even the pop-up parties. It’s the entertainment industry.
I saw a preview for a movie that I thought he may like today, but instead of “that would be a great family movie night choice!” I thought “if we wanted to see it, I need to see it first.” Why? Because more and more, food allergies are used as a punchline or plot point. Peter Rabbit wasn’t the first (and I know it won’t be the last). Just yesterday, there was a comic that depicted a scene that actually DID just happen to an allergic teen.
Why is the suffering that happens with an allergic reaction funny? How does making fun of a potentially life-ending medical condition help move the world forward? I have to think really hard to try and come up with another medical condition that is life-threatening yet portrayed so poorly, inaccurately and as a joke. I have heard other people say “It’s a teachable moment.” I kind of scratch my head and say “My child already knows exactly what it looks and feels like to live through an anaphylactic reaction. What is this teaching him?” While there are lessons that the general audience could learn from these moments, movies move so fast that anything remotely close to how to manage an actual reaction would end up on the cutting room floor. I’m not saying kids will see these things and do them (though I’m sure some sadly may). What I don’t want to do is take my child for a fun afternoon and end up with any of them feeling bad, anxious or worried when we were supposed to be having fun.
I know I cannot keep my tween from everything in this world, and I know I have to prepare him for the “real world.” I have to say that I think kids with food allergies are keenly aware of real-world choices from a very young age. I will talk with him about people who make films, books, and comics who choose to use his medical condition for laughs. About how they don’t intend to harm him or the 15 million Americans with life-threatening food allergies, even though they may be in one way or another. While these kids have to grow up much faster than some in many ways, most of them seem to be exceptional in their ability to be empathic. I’m sure he would feel sorry for the lack of abilities of those writers who find a joke in a life-threatening condition.
I applaud Kids With Food Allergies for getting the word out about the issues with Peter Rabbit. I am so very grateful for having that heads up from them before we inadvertently walked into a movie that would have us walking out 1/2 way through feeling awful. I know not all kids would react the same way which is why the heads up they gave was so important. They never called for a ban or boycott, they were looking out for parents like me who would think twice about going because of what was portrayed on the big screen. I will keep an eye out for these pitfalls because I’m a Mom. I don’t want my kid to see something potentially life-ending in his real-life play on the screen or in a book for laughs. It isn’t funny. It’s not teaching anyone anything. I will keep him from those things. While I can not stop the rest of the world from acting poorly, I can keep my kiddo from having his medical condition thrown in his face, for just a little while longer.