Speaking as both a parent and the president, Barack Obama told young people they shouldn't have to accept bullying as an inevitable part of growing up.

Obama and first lady Michelle Obama convened a conference on bullying Thursday, seeking to shine a spotlight on an issue that affects millions of young people each year.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln school psychology Professor Susan Swearer shared her expertise on a panel at the conference.

More than 150 students, parents and educators gathered at the White House to discuss how they can work together to make schools and communities safer. Obama urged parents and teachers to create support systems for their children and students.

"It's easy for us to forget what it's like to be teased or bullied, but it's also easy to forget the natural compassion and the sense of decency that our children display each and every day when they're given a chance," he said.

The White House says one-third of the nation's students, or 13 million children, have been bullied. The issue has gained increased attention in recent years in part because of the effect of new technologies such as Facebook and Twitter, and because of high-profile coverage of young people who have committed suicide after being bullied.

Experts say young people who are bullied are more likely to have trouble in school, abuse drugs and alcohol, and have health issues. Obama has warned that failing to address bullying puts the nation at risk of falling behind other countries in academics and college readiness.

The White House says the administration will continue to work on bullying prevention after the conference through partnerships with state and local organizations and the private sector, including Facebook and MTV.

Speaking on the panel, Swearer said students who are bullied at home or outside the classroom often become bullies at school. She said a school environment that rewards positive student behavior and doesn't tolerate bullying is essential to preventing and addressing bullying.

"We need to create school climates where (bullying) is just totally unacceptable," she said.

Other panelists talked about the pervasive nature of cyber-bullying, or bullying that occurs via the Internet and social media, as well as the need for adults to listen and address bullying when students report it.

Justin Patchin of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire said cyber-bullying is more difficult to prevent and stop, as children are exposed constantly to social media and texting through smart phones and computers.

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"It's harder to escape cyber-bullying because it seems like it's everywhere," he said.

He said it's important for parents to monitor their children's use of social media.

"If your child is on Facebook, you need to be on Facebook," he said. "They may not like that."

Swearer said only 40 percent of children report bullying to their parents. Many children fear the bullying will only worsen if they report it, she said.

Catherine Bradshaw of the Johns Hopkins Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence said parents and teachers need to avoid blaming children who report bullying. Parents also need to avoid encouraging their children to fight back, she said.

Patchin said most bullying victims don't care whether their bullies are punished.

"They just want the bullying to stop," he said. "They just want it to stop."

  

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