Playground bullying vs. teasing

April 28, 2007 at 10:51 am (Allergy News!, Blog & Websites, education, food, kids, nut-free, Products, safety, school, social issues)

There have been a lot of blog posts in the allergic community lately about kids bullying allergic classmates.

This calls to mind a post I left on a local message board over the weekend, about being teased. Here’s an excerpt:

being made fun of


Submitted by lmharmon on Thu Apr 26, 2007 10:09 pm


Take this for what it’s worth, but being made fun of can be so character-building. I’m not saying it’s something I’d seek out for my kids, but it’s not the end of the world.

I was at least a foot and a half taller than every second grader at my new school, the beginning of second grade. Add to the fact that I had (first) buckteeth and then (worse) a headgear. I was called Radar Head, and openly attacked physically by little boys on the playground that were intimidated by my size.

Amazingly, I quickly made friends and endured the teasing with no lasting damage. I only recently even remembered being called Radar Head. I do remember the teasing a neighbor boy got on the bus for taking up for me! They accused him of being my boyfriend! Rolling Eyes Embarassed Very Happy

Oh, did I mention my mother dressed me funny? Knee socks and tartan skirts and other very feminine clothing, for me, the total tomboy. It was a nightmare.

But I actually enjoyed school a lot, became one of the most popular kids in school, was a cheerleader, etc.

The whole time, I was taller than everyone, and went through not only the headgear, but a functional appliance, braces, etc.

…I think I was the living dictionary of “awkward stage” all through those precious years.

My point being, on this topic, that being teased is something that will happen to most kids (some of us more than others!), and I think we actually grow from the experience.

As the mother of a child with peanut allergy, I have been called “Peanut Lady” in a moment of insensitivity by an administrator at my son’s school. Again…an opportunity for growth on my part, and education for him. (He was immediately apologetic, but how revealing that slip was of his heart, at least at that moment.)

The reason I post this today is because I want to make something crystal clear: teasing is not the same as bullying. Bullying can employ teasing, but name-calling and rough-wrestling (which is probably outlawed now that kids aren’t typically free to skin their knees on the playground) are common parts of child development. Most kids will be on both sides of that experience at some point before they begin adolescence. They had better be!

Bullying takes teasing too far. Bullying takes the wrestling and makes it mean. It is a kid who is three times bigger, and old enough to know better, pushing another kid around. It is the little girl who knows that the special needs child in her school is mildly retarded, who still openly mocks and makes fun of the differently-abled child. Words and actions can be used mildly, or they can be abusive.

Bullying is abusive. Teasing really is not.

If my kid gets called Peanut Boy (not likely at his current school), then that’s teasing, right? But if someone holds a peanut butter and jelly sandwich over his head unawares, that’s not teasing. That’s dangerous. And then we’re getting into bullying issues.

Personally, I think life is too short for bullying amongst adults, but even that occurs. I have experienced it with food allergies, very often. People are sometimes openly resentful that we do not eat nut products (why they take this personally, I will never know), sometimes passive-aggressive about it, testing us and trying to get us to “slip” and eat something that might endanger our nursing child, or via contact, cause a reaction in Sam. Why do they do it?

I can only presume it is for the same reason the playground bully chases a classmate around with a handful of peanuts in his hand: it’s a short-term power trip without thought for the long-term ramifications on others.


Sam models his Nut Free Zone hoodie.




  1. Gina said,

    I agree that sometimes the things that challenge us the most or are the most difficult are what can ultimately prompt us into becoming better, stronger, more resiliant people.

    But I do feel concerned about teasing and taunting of food allergic children. I know that Sabrina Shannon was teased about the red fanny pack that she carried with her with her epipen in it. Later, she kept it in her locker because kids teased her about carrying it. We can only wonder what might have happened if it had been with her on Sept 29 three years ago.

    A survey by Nestle Canada showed that 74% of adults believed peanuts could cause a life-threatening reactions. What does that say about the other 26% of adults? Think about it . We are interacting with those who truly dont “get it”

    The more the adults “get it” the more their kids will. So that if there are restrictions on foods or party treats, parents will understand that this is not a power struggle or a case of allergy kids getting preferential treatment. Its a case of protecting kids who need it.

    When this message is better understood, perhaps these parents will pass it along to their children too and make the world a little safer and more compassionte for our children.

    Take care,

  2. allergyware said,

    I agree with you, Gina.

    I was writing this to sort out my own definition of what “teasing” is vs. “bullying.”

    Teasing would not cause a child to leave her medicine behind. Taunting, though…yeah, I think that is treading in the territory of bullying.

    I think it’s important to distinguish on a case-by-case basis for our children whether things are going too far.

    I am sickened that Sabrina Shannon lost her life, just like any other parent. It is a tragedy I do not want to see repeated.

    However, I want my child to learn how to deal with teasing constructively, when it happens. I don’t want him to be shielded from it so that for whatever reason, he throws his Epi-pens in an inconvenient spot and walks off, trying to be un-tease-able.

  3. sssllly said,

    Just found this blog. Thank you! You have confirmed my suspicions that I am not crazy! A child in my sons class recently brought in a bag of nuts with the specific purpose of taunting him(knowing that he could die from this). The school is calling it “normal” bullying and thinks we’re insane. Now the child is threatening him. Again, we’re the ones overreacting…

  4. simonjor said,

    Why does bullying always assume that one child is bigger than the other?

    Teasing can be a form of bullying if the child being teased is intimidated or brought to a lower social standing – as the definition of bullying often mentions a change in social status.

    A younger, smaller, stronger, faster, more athletic or coordinated child can tease and bully an older child, especially in sports and playground activities.

    Is it teasing if they call them slow or weak? Is it bullying if they constantly single them out in games like dodge ball or tag? What about if they gang up on them with other kids to the point that the child is brought to tears? What about if they trap them in a corner and “tease” them by calling them names? What if they “accidentally” trip them….on a daily basis?

    Calling you Radar Head may be considered teasing because you can handle it, but what if caused you distress? Would it then be considered bullying? I think at some point you have to consider how the action affects the kid being picked on to determine if it teasing or bullying.

    Thought this was a good discussion on the topic:

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