Obama Administration Stands Up to Bullying
From social networks to federal agencies, programs address issue faced by nearly 13 million students.
On March 10, U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama called for a united effort to address bullying at the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention. Approximately 150 students, parents, teachers, non-profit leaders, advocates and policymakers met to discuss how they can work together to make schools and communities safe for all students.
"If there's one goal of this conference, 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," said President Obama. "Bullying can have destructive consequences for our young people. And it's not something we have to accept. As parents and students; teachers and communities, we can take steps that will help prevent bullying and create a climate in our schools in which all of our children can feel safe."
A statement issued by the White House estimated that nearly one-third of all school-aged children are bullied each year -- approximately 13 million students. Students involved in bullying are more likely to have challenges in school, to abuse drugs and alcohol, and to have health and mental health issues, the statement noted.
The White House also highlighted private, non-profit, and federal commitments to bullying prevention.
Among the public-private efforts:
- Facebook will unveil two new safety features in coming weeks: (1) a revamped multimedia Safety Center to incorporate multimedia, external resources from experts and downloadable information for teens; (2) a new "Social Reporting" system to enable people to report content that violates Facebook policies so that it can be removed as soon as possible, while notifying parents or teachers of the content so that the reasons for its posting can be addressed.
- Formspring, a social network with over 22 million members, is working with The MIT Media Lab to develop new approaches to detect online bullying, and designing interfaces that help prevent it or mitigate it when it does occur. The approach uses artificial intelligence to understand online bullying at a deeper level than just words. MIT Media Lab and Formspring hope to build self-reflective interfaces that encourage social network participants to think sensibly about their behavior and suggest alternatives and coping strategies.
- MTV will launch a new anti-digital discrimination coalition, which will work to fight bullying and intolerance online (in partnership with the National Council of La Raza, Anti-Defamation League, Council on American-Islamic Relations, and GLAAD). MTV will also release a new feature film inspired by the true story of Abraham Biggs, a 19-year-old who battled bipolar disorder and ultimately webcast his suicide after being egged on by a digital mob. The network plans six new cyberbullying and digital discrimination public service announcements, encouraging bullying bystanders to support their friends, connect victims of digital abuse to resources, and drive home the serious impact typewritten words can have.
Among the initiatives at the federal level:
- The web site StopBullying.gov launched March 10 to provide information from government agencies on how children, teens, young adults, parents, educators and others in the community can prevent or stop bullying. The site explains bullying, its risk factors, its warning signs and its effects. The site also provides details on how to get help for those that have been victimized by bullying.
- A letter available from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights clarifies issues of bullying and violation of federal education anti-discrimination laws. The guidance explains educators' legal obligations to protect students from student-on-student racial and national origin harassment, sexual and gender-based harassment, and disability harassment.
- Governors and Chief State School Officers in each state have been informed of key components of comprehensive and effective state anti-bullying laws and policies.
- The Health Resources and Services Administration has created the Stop Bullying Now! (SBN) campaign to raise awareness about bullying; prevent and reduce bullying behaviors; identify interventions and strategies; and encourage and strengthen partnerships. SBN was developed by a steering committee and implementation work group that included more than 70 organizations from in and out of government. The campaign covers ages five to 18 years old, and includes tool kits to encourage and empower youth to mentor younger children to take action again bullying.
- The Department of Education's Safe and Supportive Schools competitive grant program requires recipient states to measure school safety, which includes issues of bullying and harassment, at the building level by surveying students. Federal funds are available for interventions in those schools identified as having the greatest need. The Department of Education has awarded grants to 11 states for activities under this program.