I am JJ: A child with a food allergy must possess grit.

#throwback to my high school graduation. We must start teaching our children about grit sooner than later.

#throwback to my high school graduation. We must start teaching our children about grit sooner than later.

If someone calls you a “morron” in an email are you still a moron?

That was the question my friend asked me after I showed him an angry email I received in response to my recent post about ABC’s Roseanne making fun of food allergies.

If you are going to raise children who can successfully advocate (and navigate) for themselves in this I-am-Internet-troll environment, you must start teaching them the importance of having grit. The sooner they start learning about grit, the better.

In her awesome TED talk, Penn psychology professor and author Angela Duckworth says grit is “passion plus perseverance for long-term goals.”

In my Sunday CANspiration video for young people, I took Dr. Duckworth’s message, grabbed a handful of toothbrushes and headed outside of my apartment in Philly. Grit always reminds me of grrrrrrinding my teeth, thus the toothbrush analogy. Grit also reminds me of the word growth.

Experts compare grit to crossing the finish line after running a marathon.  Mile 1 is fun. It’s mile 8 or 16 or 24 that can sideline you. Grit is what’s needed when the terrain gets bumpy.

Anyone who chooses to be an advocate today is going to face more obstacles than in the recent past. We are living in a toxic time. And if we’re going to be advocates — like children living with food allergies must be — we will be exposed to ignorance and anger and hate. How we handle it is based on what tools we possess.

A child with a food allergy needs thick skin, patience and persistence.

A child with a food allergy needs passion and perseverance.

Last Thursday I added my voice to the Roseanne food allergy conversation. In response to the question many in the food allergy community kept asking, “When will the jokes about children with food allergies end?” I said, “The jokes will end when we get enough people to understand why they’re not funny. The jokes will end when we hold the right people accountable.”

As the food allergy world was writing letters to Rosanne and ABC, I simply suggested that a better choice would be to write ABC’s parent company, Disney. Disney, I maintained, publicly prides itself on being an industry leader for those of us in the food allergy community. I said it was Mickey Mouse and not Rosanne who owes certain apologies. And not apologies to me. But apologies to Disney’s caring theme park chefs and food allergy bloggers and families who trust their theme parks and Disney cruises.

I didn’t suggest people burn their mouse ears. I didn’t suggest they stop naming their kids Goofy.

As Thursday’s post went out, I started to receive incredible nods of support. There were some well-reasoned opposing views, of course, and their insights offered another perspective that I needed to hear. BUT then the hate arrived in my inbox.

I was called naive and entitled and spoiled. I was told to stop complaining. Two people called me a snowflake. And one called me a “morron.”

And that got me thinking. Sure, it’s one thing to say you have thick skin. But are we teaching our kids how to have thick skin? How to discern what opposing views they need to hear and which ones they don't?

Are we teaching our children wth food allergies how to be persistent and patient.

Are we teaching our children with food allergies how to maintain passion and how to persevere over the long term?

And are we doing this with an honest assessment of how ugly and pervasive these obstacles truly are today? This isn’t 1980 or 1990 or even 2015. Social media has amplified how we disagree. It’s like teaching a kid holding a Wiffle ball bat how to hit a 90 MPH fastball. He might need a new bat.

Children living with food allergies advocate for themselves daily, whether they simply are making sure a snack is safe at school or that a seat is clean in the caf or that a friend understands why it’s best he doesn’t eat cheese curls while holding the game controller. As those children enter their teen years, their advocacy expands outside their personal spaces. And if those children are raised to be true advocates, they also will look out for others who can’t speak for themselves.

But unless our children with food allergies are equipped with the right set of tools — unless they know how to use those tools today — their advocacy will become less effective, especially if they feel that advocates are “complainers” or “entitled brats” or “morrons.”


JJ Vulopas is a junior at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. An advocate for young people, JJ has lived with food allergies his entire life. He is the author of the book, Land of Not. You can read his daily blog at www.thelandofcan.com.