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Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference (CBC/ALC) Anti-Bullying Braintrust

September 20, 2012
Washington, DC

Thank you. I’m glad I could join you today.

We’re all here because we believe every child deserves a healthy start and a safe childhood. Every young person deserves the opportunity and the support to grow up strong and pursue his or her dreams.

This is our greatest hope as parents. But it’s also the best investment we can make in the future of our country.

That’s why over the last 3 years, this administration has made an unwavering commitment to our children.

We’ve invested in education giving incentives to states to innovate and improve school performance. And we’ve invested in quality child care and early education.

We’ve taken historic steps to protect kids from aggressive tobacco advertising. We’ve supported local public health programs that help young people get exercise and eat healthy. And we’ve worked with states to enroll those children who are eligible for Medicaid and CHIP but remain uninsured. As a result, even during tough economic times, more children have insurance today than ever before.

But if we want to make good on this progress, there is another important step we have to take. We need to make sure every child can grow up without intimidation, without violence, without fear in their lives.

When many of us were growing up, the attitude was that bullying was a rite of passage. Some people thought it made you tougher. Other people said: Just get through it and, you’ll be ok.

These ideas have stuck around. But what we know now is just how shortsighted they are. We know that bullying is not only dangerous in the moment, but the harm it does can last a lifetime.

Students involved in bullying are more likely to struggle in school, use drugs, 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, anxious, and feel unsafe at school. We also have research that shows that when Black and Hispanic youth are bullied, they’re more likely to suffer academically than their white peers.

So the truth is that just making it through bullying, doesn’t mean your child will be fine. What is even worse is that some do not even make it at all. We can only try to understand why some victims of bullying as young as 7 have felt so alone that they took their own lives. It is hard to imagine a bigger tragedy than someone at such precious age pushed so far beyond the reach of any help or hope.

And we need to do everything we can to prevent it.

The fact is that bullying is a serious public health issue. And it requires a serious public health response.

Bullying can happen in the locker room and the chat room -- on a crowded bus or an empty hallway -- in school and on facebook. It takes place anywhere and everywhere. And so, if we truly want to prevent and end bullying, we will have to mobilize entire communities against it.

Under President Obama we’ve taken historic steps to do exactly that. But we know we can’t do it alone. And to continue the momentum we’ve seen over the last few years, we need your continued support in three areas.

The first is to continue changing attitudes. 

Programs like our Prevention Practices in Schools grant program ARE giving children positive social skills at a young age to prevent bullying and other risky behavior down the road.         

But adults also have a responsibly. We need to replace the old habits where  too many adults just turn their backs to bullying. Others may tell their kids to ‘knock it off,’ but leave it at that. They walk away and the bullying continues.

So, last month, together with the Ad Council, we launched a Public Service Campaign aimed at parents. The TV, print, and web ads encourage parents to talk to their kids about bullying, even if they are not directly involved, to change the climate of silent acceptance.

We have to work together to take apart the myths that say bullying is inevitable. just as important is the work we do next, to build up a culture where bullying can and must be prevented as early as possible.   

The second area we’re focusing on is putting more resources into people’s hands.

It can be hard to know where to start with a problem as far-reaching and complicated as bullying. That’s especially true if you’re a parent, teacher or principal looking for concrete steps you can take to protect your own kids in your own community. That’s why we’ve created a one-stop shop for bullying prevention tools at stopbullying.gov. Its resource database includes more than 100 tool-kits, fact sheets, articles and program directories.

For anyone who comes to you asking ‘where do I begin?’ this should be your starting point. There is a revamped section for kids. And for young people who might be thinking about hurting themselves, the website shows them where they can get immediate help. 

Our goal is to give people the support they need to become bullying prevention leaders in their own communities.

Over the years, experts from our Department have gone out to communities where they have trained school staff, coaches, parents and youth about the best practices of bullying prevention.

But we were limited in how many people we could reach directly. We knew that bullying was taking place in nearly every community in America, and we didn’t have the resources to go everywhere.

We do however have the tools to empower community leaders with the expertise to train and lead their own colleagues and neighbors. That’s the idea behind the new Training Module we made available for the first time last month on Stopbullying.gov. 

Over and over again we’ve heard from local leaders who say ‘I want to establish a bullying prevention plan for my community, but I don’t know where to begin.’ Now, they have a great place to begin. They can download this research-based training right from the website and adapt it to their community’s unique needs.

A third area we’re focusing on is gaining a better understanding of bullying.

For many years, our picture of bullying was limited to anecdotal evidence, and a scattering of state and local surveys. But we have had very few rigorous studies about the specific factors, including race and ethnicity, that may put youth at risk for bullying or the specific steps that can protect them.

So we’ve begun to change that.

Our Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have incorporated bullying to its Youth Risk Behavior Survey, the agency’s biennial snapshot of schools across the country. With new questions in the survey, we have a national picture of how many students experience bullying in school and which communities are more likely to face these challenges.

But this isn’t just a one-time picture. As the survey is repeated every two years, we will be able to measure our progress.  And I’m hopeful that over time, that’s exactly what we’ll see.

I know many of you have been working on these issues for many years.  Bullying is not new.  These are behaviors that have been around a long time. They are attitudes that have been handed down from one generation to the next.               

The only way to change that for all of us to commit to changing a culture that too often says, “It’s not my responsibility.” We need to start by handing down new values.

They are values that say we are all responsible for building and keeping a safe community. When you witness bullying you have an obligation to say something and get help. No one deserves to be hurt or intimidated. And no one can afford to be a bystander.

As a mother, I have seen the awful power of bullying on young people. And I know that any parent would move heaven and earth to defend her child from the pain and fear a bully might cause. Together, we can build a nation, where every single child, no matter who she is or where he lives, gets that same protection and support.

Thank you.