First Lady Michelle Obama speaking to the audience while President Barack Obama looks on. –Photo Credits: Fred Watkins
White House Confronts Bullying Head On
By Chris Williams
Keeping children safe from the destructive effects of bullying took center stage when President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama lead the proceedings for the first-ever White House Conference on Bullying Prevention.
In opening the conference, President Obama referenced his experience of being bullied as a child and how easily the problem can be overlooked by adults.
“…with big ears and the name that I have, I wasn’t immune, Obama said. “I didn’t emerge unscathed. But because it’s something that happens a lot, and it’s something that’s always been around, sometimes we’ve turned a blind eye to the problem. We’ve said, ‘Kids will be kids.’ And so sometimes we overlook the real damage that bullying can do, especially when young people face harassment day after day, week after week.”
Approximately 150 students, parents, educators, policymakers, and community leaders participated in the day-long conference. “If there’s one goal of this conference,” said President Obama, during the opening session, “it’s to dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up. It’s not.”
Following the opening session, some of the nation’s leading experts on bullying alongside young people, who have been victims of bullying, joined forces to develop and implement solutions to this increasing problem facing the youth of America inside and outside of the classroom.
“As parents, this issue really hits home for us,” said Mrs. Obama. “It breaks our hearts to think that any child feels afraid every day in the classroom, on the playground, or even online.”
Results from a study conducted by the Journal of Adolescent Health in September 2007 stated that “Black adolescents reported a significantly lower prevalence of victimization than white and Hispanic students.
Multivariate results indicated modest racial/ethnic variation in associations between bullying and family, peer, and school factors.
Parental communication, social isolation, and classmate relationships were similarly related to bullying across racial/ethnic groups. Living with two biological parents was protective against bullying involvement for white students only. Furthermore, although school satisfaction and performance were negatively associated with bullying involvement for white and Hispanic students, school factors were largely unrelated to bullying among black students.”
The issue of bullying rose to the forefront of the American discourse recently with reports of children committing suicide at alarming rates due to the torment they were receiving from their classmates in school and on the internet. These incidents influenced President Obama and his administration to take action. In conjunction with the conference, President Obama released an online video “It Gets Better,” which targeted teens who were being harassed and teased about their sexuality and, thus, a Federal Task Force was created to combat bullying.
The U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services played a vital role during the conference. Numerous senior officials participated in the discussion, including Kalpen Modi, associate director for the White House Office of Public Engagement, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes.
Among the topics covered during the conference were effective programs and policies for bullying, cyber-bullying, and identifying campus-based and community-based programs targeted at bullying. Senior Advisor to the President, Valerie Jarrett announced that in conjunction with the conference a new website – www.stopbullying.gov – was being launched simultaneously. The website provides information from various government agencies on how kids, teens, young adults, parents, educators and others in the community can prevent or stop bullying.
According to the National Education Association (NEA) “across school levels and communities, staff working in middle schools and in urban areas were more likely to report that they had frequently witnessed bullying (66% and 65% respectively) and were more likely to perceive it as a serious problem (59% and 54% respectively).”
President Obama related even more staggering statistics on bullying.
“A third of all middle school and high school students have reported being bullied during the school year,” Obama said. “Almost 3 million students have said they were pushed, shoved, tripped, even spit on.”
President Obama has prioritized $132 million to the 2012 fiscal budget to help bring a swift end to bullying. The monies will be placed in the U.S. Department of Education’s Successful, Safe, and Healthy Students program.
In a show of bipartisan leadership, Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, of Pennsylvania, and Republican Sen. Mark Kirk, of Illinois, presented anti-bullying legislation called the Safe Schools Improvement Act.
The Act would require schools and districts that receive federal funding to enforce penalties for anyone participating in bullying and harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and sexual orientation. It would also make states integrate prevention programs in those schools and districts and they would be required to report their findings to the U.S. Department of Education.
President Obama stressed the importance of adults role in ending bullying.
“We’ve got to make sure our young people know that if they’re in trouble, there are caring adults who can help and young adults that can help; that even if they’re having a tough time, they’re going to get through it, and there’s a whole world full of possibility waiting for them,” Obama said. “We also have to make sure we’re doing everything we can so that no child is in that position in the first place. And this is a responsibility — we all share a responsibility we have to teach all children the Golden Rule: We should treat others the way we want to be treated.
President Barack Obama talks about his experience with bullying during White House conference.