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Obama at White House bullying conference: 'I wasn't immune'

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March 10, 2011|By Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times
  • During a White House event to prevent bullying, President Obama told of being picked on as a child.
During a White House event to prevent bullying, President Obama told of… (Jason Reed / Reuters )

President Obama 'fessed up Thursday morning that, as a young student, he was involved in bullying. As a victim, that is.

"I have to say, with big ears and the name that I have, I wasn't immune.  I didn't emerge unscathed," he told teachers, parents and government officials assembled for the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention.

The president showed off several anti-bullying efforts under way in Washington, including the new website stopbullying.gov and initiatives by the Department of Education to get anti-bullying programs up and running in schools.  (In a nod to the growing menace of cyber-bullying, Facebook joined in too, announcing new social networking tools to help victims report when they've been attacked.)

Obama stressed that kids, parents and schools shouldn't approach bullying as business as usual. "Because it's something that happens a lot, and it's something that's always been around, sometimes we've turned a blind eye to the problem.  We've said 'Kids will be kids.' And so sometimes we overlook the real damage that bullying can do," he said.

Calling attention to bullies' bad behavior might be the first step in getting them knock it off, experts say.  In February the Los Angeles Times reported about recent research conducted in high schools in North Carolina that showed that students behaved more aggressively toward other kids as their popularity increased. (Some noted that this seemed a lot like the behavior of the social climbers in Hollywood movies like "Mean Girls.")  UCLA psychologist Jaana Juvonen told The Times, "It's really critical for bystanders to speak up. If there's an aggressive kid everyone bows down to, it sends a signal to the bully that what they're doing is working." 

Students at Trevor G. Browne High School in Phoenix, Ariz., wrote to The Times about the study.  Like Obama and Juvonen, many agreed it was time to draw the line on bullies. Here's a sampling of their comments:

Josue: "My solution ... against bullying [is to] involve the teachers in this fight against aggression. If the student disobeys this rule, their consequence will be one of the following: warning, detention, call to parents, referral and even suspension."

Ellie: "You have to do better than fight and pick on others to succeed in life.  We all know high school isn't easy because of bullying, but kids need to be informed on why it's not OK."

Steven: "Teens don't really bully to gain social status, they do it more for their entertainment.  There are some people that think if they bully someone it will make them seem cool or known, but it's really not the case. Those who are getting bullied need to be smart enough to avoid it or let someone know what you're going through to prevent it from happening again."

Claudia: "As a teenager, I've noticed that both in high school and in middle school people will do almost anything in order to be at the top of the popularity chain.  What teenagers in school need to do is simply tell a trusted adult about their problems.  Schools should be more aware and open about letting their students know more about bullying.  We need to get back to the old times where the popular people were those whom everyone wanted to be around because they were friendly and outgoing and not because we feared them."

RELATED:
 
Story about the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention

Times article on recent research about aggression and popularity

More from The Times on bullying.

White House backgrounder on Thursday's bullying conference.

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