Obama takes on bullies at White House anti-bullying summit
President Obama showcased federal, state, local initiatives to address bullying, at a White House webcast on bullying prevention.
Partly it’s because he grew up being teased about his big ears, and partly it’s because he has two young daughters: For President Obama, the nation’s bullying problem is one he takes personally.Skip to next paragraph
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The issue is even more personal for some conference attendees – parents and siblings of youths who have killed themselves in recent years in the wake of repeated bullying.
Sirdeaner Walker, for instance, became a national advocate for anti-bullying laws and education after her 11-year-old son, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, committed suicide in 2009 after prolonged anti-gay bullying at school. Attention to his case, as well as the suicide last year of teenager Phoebe Prince, helped build momentum for a new comprehensive bullying prevention law in Massachusetts.
“No family should have to go through what these families have gone through,” President Obama said. With a third of all middle-schoolers and high-schoolers reporting that they have been bullied in a given school year, he said, “we’ve got to make sure our young people know that if they’re in trouble, there are caring adults who can help.... 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.”
By taking on bullying in such a high-profile way, the conference “will be a huge step towards changing our current ‘vulture culture’ into one of respect and equality,” says Susan Lipkins, a psychologist who helps train educators on bullying prevention. Because the conference included a live chat on Facebook, she says, it’s “really hitting directly at the population most likely to bully and be bullied.”
Many young people want to stand up against bullying, but simply don’t know how, Ms. Lipkins adds.
On the new website StopBullying.gov, both children and adults can find a wide range of free resources to better understand bullying and how to respond.
Increasingly, state legislators are requiring educators to address bullying. Forty-five states have anti-bullying laws, but many need to be more comprehensive, according to the watchdog group Bully Police USA. The group gives New Jersey’s recently revised law and the 2010 Massachusetts law an A++ rating for meeting key criteria such as mandating anti-bullying programs, protecting people against reprisal for reporting bullying, and including a clause on cyberbullying.
Only 30 of the state laws specifically address cyberbullying, and many of those don’t outline what schools should do, said Justin Patchin, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, during the conference. About 1 in 5 teens has experienced cyberbullying ranging from minor things to death threats, but less than 15 percent tell adults, he says, partly because they don’t want to lose access to their cell phones or social media sites.