- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 10, 2011

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama on Thursday used their roles as national parents and policymakers to ask Americans to stand against the heartbreak of bullying.

“As adults, we all remember what it was like to see kids picked on in the hallways or in the schoolyard,” Mr. Obama said to a packed audience in the East Room, who gathered for the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention.

“And I have to say, with big ears and the name that I have, I wasn’t immune. I didn’t emerge unscathed,” he said to laughter.

But the destructive side of bullying has been dismissed too long as “kids will be kids” or as an inevitable rite of passage, Mr. Obama said.

“Almost 3 million students have said they were pushed, shoved, tripped, even spit on,” he said, noting that vulnerable children include those who are “seen as different” because of their skin color, clothing, disability or sexual orientation.

“[N]o child should be afraid to go to school in this country, he said. “We all share a responsibility … to teach all children the Golden Rule: We should treat others the way we want to be treated.”

Parents should “make a real effort to be engaged in our children’s lives, to listen to them and be there for them when they need us,” said Mrs. Obama.

Still, she empathized, “as parents, Barack and I know that sometimes, maybe even a lot of the time, it’s really hard for parents to know what’s going on in our kids’ lives.” Kids “don’t always tell us every little detail,” the first lady said, adding, “We know that from Sasha. Sasha’s response is — ‘What happened at school today?’ ‘Nothing.’ That’s it!”

White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said that even one incident of bullying “can leave a lasting impact.” She explained how when her daughter was in kindergarten, she was bullied one day. Ms. Jarrett said she, school officials and the other child’s parents were all contacted and apologies were made “before bedtime” on the same day. But even 20 years later, her daughter can still remember that incident as if it were a fresh memory, Ms. Jarrett told the audience.

Bullying can also turn into a terrible tragedy. Sitting in the East Room were a still-grieving Laura Field and her husband, Kirk Smalley, of Perkins, Okla.

Their 11-year-old son, Ty, fatally shot himself in May after arguing with another child at school who they say had a history of taunting and pushing him. Because of the argument, school officials suspended both Ty and the other child, and sent them home. Ty left the school in tears and soon after took his life.

Mr. Smalley said later in the White House press room that Ty initially told him and his wife about the bullying, but “then he got to the point where he would quit talking about it.”

Schools need to be pressured to take bullying very seriously — and they need more resources to deal with it, Mr. Smalley said. On the other hand, he said sadly, bullying is unlikely to go away anytime soon, and has even expanded into cyberbullying, via cell phones, e-mails and social networking sites.

“We’ve got to keep up with that,” he said.

As part of the daylong conference, the White House announced anti-bullying activities in six federal agencies and partnerships with Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MTV Networks, Facebook, National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, National PTA, National School Boards Association, National Association of Student Councils and SurveyMonkey.

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