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For a few hours on Thursday morning, President Obama donned the cap of America's "Father-in Chief," hosting the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention. Standing alongside the first lady, the president announced, "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. Bullying can have destructive consequences for our young people."
As evidence, the president recalled victims of bullying who had taken their own lives: "They felt like they had nowhere to turn, as if they had no escape from taunting and bullying that made school something they feared."
Citing the almost 3 million students who have said they were "pushed, shoved, tripped, even spit on," Obama said that bullying was "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 White House Conference, which brought together 150 students, parents, educators, advocates and policymakers, focused on creating public and private sector partnerships to address the issue of bullying, both inside and outside of schools.
Included among the initiatives announced during the conference were: new tools on Facebook to discourage online harassment, a new campaign spearheaded by MTV to fight bullying, the launch of a resource website, StopBullying.Org, and a PTA campaign that will encourage parents to share resources and coordinate efforts to stop bullying in schools.
Obama noted that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius would be coordinating efforts to monitor harassing behavior in schools nationwide.
Both the president and first lady emphasized the role of parents in monitoring harassment at school and in social networks.
Offering a glimpse into their own home life, Michelle Obama recalled, "As parents, Barack and I also 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. We don't always know, because they don't always tell us every little detail. We know that from Sasha. Sasha's response is -- "What happened at school today?" "Nothing." That's it."
She continued, chucking, "It's like, well, we're taking you out of that school."
The president, for his part, said of the parent-child relationship: "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."
Speaking to his own experience with bullying, Obama offered, "I have to say, with big ears and the name that I have, I wasn't immune. I didn't emerge unscathed."
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