In a recorded video address posted Thursday night on the White House blog, President Obama spoke to the recent suicides of several gay youth, victims of peer harassment and bullying. Saying the deaths "shocked and saddened" him and that teen suicide "breaks my heart," the president called upon all Americans to be more vigilant about such matters. "We have got to dispel this myth that bullying is just a normal right of passage, that it's some inevitable part of growing up," he said. "It's not."
To teens still coping with the struggle of sexual identity at home and at school, Obama recalled his own experience as an adolescent. "I do know what it's like to grow up feeling like sometimes you don't belong. It's tough." And he offered a message of hope: "You are not alone. You didn't do anything wrong. You didn't do anything to deserve being bullied. And there is a whole world waiting for you, full of possibilities." He added, "There are people out there who love you and care about you, just the way you are. . . . You've got to reach out to people you trust."
The address is not the first time Obama has spoken to the issue in recent weeks. At an MTV-sponsored town hall meeting last week -- aimed at engaging younger voters -- the president was asked about online bullying and gay suicides. He noted that the Department of Education had initiated a summit to determine how local and state officials might coordinate structures to help young people "feel safe, where there's a trigger that goes off when this kind of bullying starts taking place, so that immediately school officials can nip it at the bud."
He called for schools to further institute zero-tolerance policies against bullying and reiterated that "there are laws against this kind of harassment." Said Obama, "Sending that message of seriousness is something that I think we all have to do."
In the same remarks, the president was plainspoken as to the root cause of harassment. "The law doesn't always change what's in people's hearts," he said. "And so all of us have an obligation to think about how we're treating other people. There's a values component to this that all of us have to be in a serious conversation about."
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