ABC News’ Sunlen Miller reports:
President Obama, revealing today he was not immune from being bullied as a child, kicked off a day-long White House conference to prevent bullying at the White House today, declaring that the one goal of the day is to “dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up.”
“It’s not,” Obama said from the East Room, “it’s not something we have to accept.”
The president said too often people just respond to bulling by saying “kids will be kids” but that is overlooking the real damage that bullying can do to kids. The White House conference today is an attempt to open up a conversation about how to avoid that damage and stop the bullying by gathered students, parents, teachers and members of the community.
The First Couple both approached the issue from a personal standpoint – noting that the issue is of great concern to them not only as the president and first lady but as “a mom and dad.”
“As parents, this issue really hits home for us,’ Mrs. Obama said, “As parents, it breaks our hearts to think that any child feels afraid every day in the classroom, or on the playground, or even online. It breaks our hearts to think about any parent losing a child to bullying, or just wondering whether their kids will be safe when they leave for school in the morning.”
The president said that he too had been a victim of bulling as a child.
“I have to say, with big ears and the name that I have, I wasn’t immune. I didn’t emerge unscathed.”
A third of middle school and high school student have reported being bulling during the school year – almost 3 million students have said they were pushed, shoved, tripped, and even spit on, the president read the statistics.
“It’s also more likely to affect kids that are seen as different, whether it’s because of the color of their skin, the clothes they wear, the disability they may have, or sexual orientation,” the president noted.
With social networking and cell phones, the president said the epidemic has spread because of technology, meaning that children are inundated with more ways that could just open them up to more bullying.
“Today, bullying doesn’t even end at the school bell — it can follow our children from the hallways to their cell phones to their computer screens.”
Mr. Obama singled out some of the “tragedies” that has drawn attention to the problem of bullying recently in the news – singling out those families whose children had been drawn to suicide – like Ty Field and Carl Walker-Hoover. Their families were both in the audience today.
“We have just been heartbroken by the stories of young people who endured harassment and ridicule day after day at school, and who ultimately took their own lives,” Obama said, “they felt like they had nowhere to turn, as if they had no escape from taunting and bullying that made school something they feared.”
The conference today will breakout into smaller discussions focused on In-school Policies, In-school Programs, Community-based Programs, Cyber bullying, and Campus-based Programs. After the day is over participants will report back on what they learned and attempt to form a strategy going forward to more formally address the problem.
“I want you all to know that you have a partner in the White House,’ the president said. “The fact is, sometimes kids are going to make mistakes, and sometimes they’re going to make bad decisions. That’s part of growing up. But it’s our job to be there for them, to guide them, and to ensure that they can grow up in an environment that not only encourages their talents and intelligence, but also their sense of empathy and their regard for one another.”