Any parent who deals with food allergies knows it’s no joking matter. In fact, it can be extremely dangerous because it can lead to a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, which — in the right circumstances — can be life-threatening within minutes or even seconds.
So what does this have to do with an adored children’s book character? In the new Sony movie, Peter Rabbit, there’s a scene in which Peter and his friends throw blackberries at their enemy, Mr. McGregor. They know he’s allergic to the berries, and they watch and laugh as he has an allergic reaction, has to use an EpiPen, and then goes into anaphylactic shock.
“I find it incredibly disappointing that a children’s film would deliberately mock children with food allergies and glorified bullying,” says Amber Stroud, a Wisconsin mom to a 4-year-old with serious food allergies. “We will not be seeing the movie.”
Parents Are (Rightfully) Upset
Stroud isn’t alone in boycotting the film. The hashtag #BoycottPeterRabbit has been trending ever since the movie was released, and the vast majority of comments are speaking out against the movie. Parents of children with food allergies are outraged, and they don’t want their kids to see the scene because they’re afraid it might scare them.
Even several allergy groups like Food Allergy Research & Education and the Allergy & Asthma Network have gone out of their way to warn parents that the scene from the movie could be upsetting to kids.
Sony has issued an apology for the movie. It reads: “Food allergies are a serious issue. Our film should not have made light of Peter Rabbit’s arch nemesis, Mr. McGregor, being allergic to blackberries, even in a cartoonish, slapstick way. We sincerely regret not being more aware and sensitive to this issue, and we truly apologize.”
Stroud, who works as a child therapist, says it’s not enough. She thinks Sony should remove the scene from the movie altogether, and in the meantime, she hopes this will bring more awareness to those living with allergies. Parents, she says, can also do their part. Here are five ways to get started.
1. Help your kids better understand food allergies.
“It’s hard to understand what it’s like living with a food allergy unless you’re living with it,” Stroud says. “It’s constant fear.” With roughly 1 in 13 children having some sort of food allergy, chances are you know someone in your life affected, yet it’s still difficult to comprehend. For kids, this might mean having to be peanut-free in a classroom or school, but it means so much more than that. Take a minute to talk to your child about how a food allergy can really affect their friend’s life.
2. Take a moment to better educate adults, too.
“It seems so easy to some,” says Stroud. “You should just avoid that food, right? But it’s not that simple.” A parent with a child who has allergies is always reading labels, double checking at restaurants, and keeping their radar up at all times. If you know a parent dealing with allergies, talk to them or ask what you can do to help. Stroud says she never expects others to compromise for her daughter, but she does hope for compassion and an attempt to understand.
3. Talk to kids about bullying.
The Peter Rabbit scene is taking a lot of flack because Peter and his friends are really ganging up on Mr. McGregor. This is a good opportunity to talk to kids about bullying. What does it look like? How does peer pressure or group actions affect a situation like this? This is a crucial conversation that needs to start when kids are young.
4. Teach compassion and understanding.
Stroud believes this scene was completely unnecessary to the movie and definitely could have been done in a different way. But it’s a good reminder for all parents to help practice understanding. “I like to believe that we are all working hard to raise our children with compassion and kindness for others,” she says. “So let’s make this message consistent. Teasing anyone about anything is wrong, and in the situation in this movie, it can lead to death.”
5. Encourage kids to speak out.
Even if you disagree with those against the movie, there is a lesson here about speaking up for something important to you. For some kids, this is easy and natural. For others, it’s not always easy to speak up and be heard. Help kids understand that it’s OK to express your opinion, even if everyone doesn’t agree.
Every parent that has a child living with an allergy knows how difficult, frustrating, and scary it is. I give these parents major kudos for taking a stand and speaking out. After all, it really can be a matter of life or death. And as Stroud notes, “Being open and learning from one another is the best gift we can give each other.”
This article was written by Stacy Tornio, a big fan of nature, books, and the Oxford comma. She lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her two kids and runs the website DestinationNature.com to encourage families to get outside.