White House Bullying Conference
March 10, 2011
Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you for that kind introduction Dr. Wakefield.
As Administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration and the administration’s highest ranking nurse, Dr. Wakefield is a tireless advocate for our most vulnerable populations and I cannot imagine a better partner for our work here today.
I want to thank President Obama and the First Lady for their leadership and commitment to stopping bullying.
As a mother, I have seen the awful power of bullying on young people.
Too many young people feel alone and ashamed, and too many keep their pain a secret, bottling up their feelings until they can no longer bear it.
It doesn’t have to be that way. We have an obligation to make sure our communities are safe for all of our kids.
We have to make it clear to every young person that if you need help, there are caring adults you can go to.
We have to make it clear that no matter who you are, no matter what your race, ethnicity, gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, income or disability, you deserve to be respected and treated fairly.
You have every right to be happy, to live without fear, and to pursue your aspirations.
Over the years, we've all heard excuse after excuse for why bullying continues.
One argument is that bullying often happens in locker rooms, deserted hallways and on social media websites where an adult may not be present.
But a majority of bullying happens in front of witnesses, including adults. And we know that adults have a responsibility to make sure there aren’t places where kids aren’t safe.
Other people operate under the belief that bullying is a rite of passage -- that it "toughens kids up” and that it is a necessary part of growing up.
But brushing aside bullying as either a problem that can’t be solved or one that isn’t serious, misses the terrible impact that it can have on a young person’s life – especially young people who feel all alone.
We know that the hurt and pain from bullying lasts long after the bullying itself takes place.
Students involved in bullying are more likely to struggle in school, use drugs and alcohol, and have physical and mental health issues that can linger well into adulthood.
Young people who do the bullying also pay a price – they are more likely to be violent as adults and get involved in criminal activity.
Even bystanders, the young people who are witnesses to bullying, are more likely to become depressed and anxious, and feel unsafe at school.
Bullying is not just another stage of development and it should not be accepted by anyone, anywhere, at any age.
The good news is that it can be stopped.
I want to thank you all for stepping up to prevent bullying in your homes, in your school, and across our communities every day.
It is incredibly important work, and at the Federal level, we want to make sure you have all of the available tools to succeed.
That’s why we’re here today and it’s why HHS has partnered with leaders of five other Departments to create a federal task force on bullying.
In 2004, our department’s Health Resources and Services Administration took the lead in launching the Stop Bullying Now! Campaign with 80 partners across the country that help reach young people everywhere from elementary and middle schools to Boys and Girls Clubs, from public libraries to 4-H clubs.
Last summer we came together for the first-ever National Bullying Summit with 150 top state, local, civic and corporate leaders and youth to begin mapping out a national plan to end bullying.
At the root of these efforts is a belief that there is no quick and easy solution to bullying. But sustained attention and a community-wide effort can make an enormous difference in the lives of young people.
When principals, teachers, school nurses, pediatricians, social workers, faith leaders, law enforcement agents, parents and youth all have the information they need to recognize bullying and respond to it, young people will take away the clear message that bullying is not acceptable.
So we’ve been building on your best practices – in school and in the community – and we’re trying to help the good ideas spread.
Today, we’re launching a valuable resource – StopBullying.gov – a comprehensive, one-stop-shop where you can go for information about preventing and responding to bullying.
It’s a perfect starting point for young adults, teens, elementary school children, parents, educators, and others in the community who work with young people.
The site explains bullying in language that each of these audiences can understand. And for young people who might be thinking about hurting themselves, the website shows them where they can get immediate help.
There is also information about proven programs for reducing bullying and a toolkit that adults and young people can use in their everyday lives.
We will be updating this site frequently, providing more information and materials to help schools and communities expand their bullying prevention initiatives even more.
Please check it out, and let us know what you think. We welcome ideas for how to make it better.
Stopbullying.gov is a great example of how we’re working together across the government to strengthen communities, and help families grow and prosper.
I want to thank our partners throughout the administration who have worked with us to break down old barriers and keep moving forward in order to address this serious problem.
If we are going to make a difference we will need to take a comprehensive approach. Schools play a central role and that is why the Department of Education has taken a leadership role. But so do parents and health professionals, police officers and faith leaders.
Building safe neighborhoods and schools where young people can thrive is a job for all of us.
It means speaking up the next time you hear someone use a homophobic slur, stepping in when you see someone being preyed upon, and letting your local education leaders – from principals to school boards – know that bullying isn't just part of growing up – it's a serious danger to our children.
Bullying is not an education problem or a health problem – it is a community problem. And we are committed to working together at the federal level to help communities, schools, and families address it as one.