Survey puts spotlight on a big problem for children with eczema: Bullying
Joanna Dobos, a mother of four children with severe eczema, says her youngest son was getting dressed one morning and commented that he liked the shorts he was wearing because they were longer and covered his knees. He asked his mother if she would buy more of them, because, he said, his knees were the worst part of him, and he was trying to cover up all the parts that people don’t really like.
“As a mother, hearing my son use the words ‘worst parts of me’ and ‘parts of me people don't like,’ I was devastated,” Dobos says. “Growing up is difficult as it is. Eczema has added some additional discomfort to that. But knowing that my child is carrying shame over things he can't control is especially difficult.”
Her boys are bothered by the many questions kids ask about their skin, Dobos says.
“…they get tired of explaining why they look so different. Jonah [one of her sons] has recently shared that students tell him he looks like an ‘old man’ because his skin is ‘weird,’” she says.
Bullying a common problem for kids with eczema
A survey released in early September of 480 parents and caregivers by the National Eczema Association (NEA) suggests Dobos and her children are by no means alone. In fact, 22% of respondents who care for children with mild to severe eczema, indicated their children experienced bullying at school, during extracurricular activities or with friends during the last year because of their eczema.
The survey defines bullying as repeated, aggressive behavior by school-aged children. It can be verbal, physical or social abuse, which can lead to social isolation.
Among those who reported their kids had been bullied, 77% said their children had lower self-esteem because of the bullying. Thirty-seven percent of the children reported inability to focus in class. More than 40% said the bullying made them less interested in sports and social activities.
But according to dermatologist Amy S. Paller, M.D., M.S., the findings that surprised her most were that 54% of those caring for bullied children with eczema reported their children weren’t as happy; 40% said these children lacked interest in managing the skin disease.
Dr. Paller, professor and chair of dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, a pediatric dermatologist at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and an NEA scientific advisory board member, says while was she aware that eczema has a stigma and children suffer with more than the itch and discomfort, it was sobering to see the high percentages of children whose self-esteem and happiness levels were affected.
“This survey really highlights that we need to be thinking about this in our kids with eczema,” Dr. Paller says.
Those caring for children with eczema say a lack of understanding about the disease is widespread. According to the survey, more than half of parents and caregivers reported that they believe their children’s teachers don’t understand eczema. Nearly 40% said they don’t believe their children’s doctors understand how to treat the skin disease.