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Obama on bullying: 'Can have destructive consequences'

From NBC's Athena Jones
Calling bullying a concern to them not just as president and first lady, but as parents, the first couple hosted an event at the White House on Thursday aimed at preventing a problem that affects thousands of young people every day.

In a Facebook video message the pair taped, President Obama noted that bullying these days can follow students "from their school, to their phone, to their computer screen" and said putting a stop to bullying was a responsibility shared by everyone.

Thursday's conference brought together students, parents, teachers, non-profit leaders and policymakers to talk about the effects of bullying and how communities nationwide can battle it. It began with opening remarks by the president and first lady and was to include a conversation with experts about effective programs for bullying prevention and breakout sessions on cyberbullying and on in-school policies and programs and community and campus based programs to prevent and stop mistreatment of young people.

"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," Obama told the East Room audience during the opening session. "Bullying can have destructive consequences for our young people and it's not something we have to accept.  As parents and students, as teachers and members of the community, we can take steps -- all of us -- to help prevent bullying."

Obama added that he too had suffered from bullying in his youth.

"As adults, we all remember what it was like to see kids picked on in the hallways or in the schoolyard," he said. "And I have to say, with big ears and the name that I have, I wasn't immune. I didn't emerge unscathed."

The issue of bullying has received increased media attention in recent years with reports that mistreatment has has led to suicides among young people. According to data released by the White House, an estimated one-third of all school-aged children -- or some 13 million students -- are bullied each year. The data state that bullied students are more likely to have health and mental health issues and more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. The administration believes a failure to address this issue puts America at a disadvantage when it comes to efforts to increase academic achievement and make sure students are college and career ready -- a key Obama agenda item.

The president and first lady met before the event in the Oval Office with families and activists who are working to fight bullying and several lawmakers and others were on hand for the conference, including Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Al Franken (D-MN) and Bob Casey (D-PA), columnist Dan Savage and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

The Departments of Education and Health and Human Services also took part in the event and the administration has set up a Web site called www.StopBullying.gov to help young people, educators and their parents deal with the issue.