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Hey Parents, Let's Dial Back the 'Peter Rabbit' Rage

Photograph by Twenty20

I won't lie, I'm beginning to think that we modern-day parents have lost our collective sense of humor. Of course, there's nothing more serious than raising healthy, good human beings, but I swear sometimes parents need to just lighten up.

Case in point, the controversy over the new Sony Pictures Animation movie "Peter Rabbit." With one scene about blackberries, the filmmakers have managed to infuriate a good portion of the parenting community. Is it really necessary?

Here's what went down: In the movie, Mr. McGregor, Peter Rabbit's nemesis, is allergic to blackberries. So, Peter and his squad of mischievous rabbits attack McGregor with—you guessed it—blackberries. That scene infuriated parents and others in the food-allergy community, and experts say that scene could cause anxiety for kids who suffer from allergies. Sony, in turn, apologized for not being "more aware and sensitive to this issue."

OK, cool, but some are asking for more—some people are asking for a full boycott of the movie.

Obviously, a kid who suffers from severe allergies might take offense at a scene in a movie making light of severe allergies. But does it really need to become a controversy? Is protesting the film necessary, or could parents of kids with severe allergies simply talk to their kids about it? I mean, it's a movie about talking bunnies. I think it's safe to assume kids that won't believe that their life is in jeopardy because someone is going to use their allergy against them.

You should know that no one relates to the stress of raising a kid with allergies more than I do. About three years ago, my then 7-year-old son started getting violently ill nearly every time he ate. After three months of food elimination, blood tests, genetic tests, scope tests and ultrasounds to make sure he didn’t have a tumor, he was diagnosed with a very serious allergy to dairy.

The stomach flu had wiped out the villi lining his stomach (that’s the stuff that helps the body digest lactose in your body), causing him to become ill whenever he ate lactose. Quickly, I became a food expert, an allergy expert and was always hyper aware of what I was feeding him, and what was in his food at a restaurant or sleepover. No, he couldn’t die from eating dairy, but he became so ill that he would vomit for hours.

You should know that no one relates to the stress of raising a kid with allergies more than I do.

I tell you this because I understand—as well as any parent of an allergic child understands—the vigilance it takes to manage a child’s allergies. I can only imagine how much more vigilant one must be when their child’s life is in danger from allergies. I know what it’s like to get the eye roll from other parents or the deep annoyed sigh from a food server in a restaurant when I’d check and double-check what was in my child’s food. I wasn’t some high-maintenance parent. I was trying to keep my kid from becoming terribly sick.

So, I get the sensitivity. But I can’t help but think we parents have gone a little too far, and have gotten a little too serious. We’re talking about a kid’s movie here. That’s not to say you can say or do anything in an animated movie. In fact, most animated movies have the main character orphaned at the start, and no one seems to care about that. In my opinion, there's nothing that can make a kid more anxious than the thought of losing a parent.

But blackberry throwing? That’s the thing that has us up in arms?

Could the filmmakers have been a bit more thoughtful? Probably. Does that scene mean every parent needs to boycott the film? No. In fact, by whitewashing everything our kids see and do, we are robbing them of the opportunity to have thoughtful conversations about difficult subjects. We are also missing an opportunity to let our kids become resilient and thick-skinned, skills they’ll need to survive the real world later in life.

As the parent of a child with allergies, I can understand sensitivity, but I also wish that not everything in the parenting world would become a protest or statement. Sometimes, it’s up to us as parents to educate and discuss difficult subjects with our children. It’s not Hollywood’s job to do so.

More important, by making every little thing about parenting an issue, we lose our sense of humor and, with it, the opportunity to show our kids that it’s OK to laugh about difficult subjects, even ones that cause us a tremendous amount of stress.

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