SALT LAKE CITY — Everyone is familiar with the shampooing and clothes-cleaning that comes after a child has been exposed to head lice. But some parents and kids might not think about another side effect of lice: Bullying.
Children sometimes experience bullying in school when they get head lice, according to Amanda Westerman, a Regional Success Coach with Lice Clinics of America.
“People associate (lice) sometimes with underprivileged children or people that are in maybe a different economic place than a lot of people, and that’s just not true,” Westerman said. “Lice is a parasite and it will stay and land on everybody when it gets a chance.”
Parents aren’t immune to that feeling either. A study conducted by Lice Clinics of America of 2,000 parents found that 52 percent of parents felt judged when their kids had lice, according to a news release from the group.
This month is National Bullying Prevention Month, and Lice Clinics of America is commemorating the month by calling for an end to the stigma and bullying surrounding head lice.
“We have heard time and again from parents that misinformation about lice and trials of treating it lead to embarrassment and shame. Children should not have to endure any bullying, let alone be harassed about head lice,” Dr. Krista Lauer, medical director of Lice Clinics of America, said in the news release. “Kids and families deserve to get back to life without enduring the stigma of a long infestation.”
The group is starting the hashtag #LetsGetRealAboutLice on social media to share facts and common misconceptions about head lice in order to dispel that stigma.
Contrary to popular belief, lice love clean, straight hair, according to Westerman. The parasites don’t jump or fly and are spread almost exclusively by head-to-head contact, according to Lice Clinics of America. They don’t make you sick either — they’re just a nuisance.
The top stigma, though, is that lice are a sign of poor hygiene, Westerman said.
“Lice does not discriminate,” she said. “That’s the bottom line. … They literally love everyone.”
People associate (lice) sometimes with underprivileged children or people that are in maybe a different economic place than a lot of people, and that’s just not true.
–Amanda Westerman, Lice Clinics of America
Westerman said parents sometimes don’t like to talk about head lice because it can be embarrassing. As a parent of twin boys, she said she’s had to make the tough phone call to other parents to let them know their kids may have been exposed to lice.
“I’ve had to make that phone call, and it’s the most not fun phone call you’ll ever make,” Westerman said.
Open communication is key to stopping the cycle of lice getting passed on from family to family, she added.
When that doesn’t happen, kids can pick up frustrations and stigmas that parents or teachers discuss, Westerman said. That can turn into kids picking on their classmates at school.
“This is just a really easy target, unfortunately,” she said. “They end up picking on each other because they don’t really know why they got it and how they got it.”
More information is available at liceclinicsofamerica.com.