It’s highly likely that prevention of online and offline bullying took a major leap forward in the US today, thanks to the bright spotlight a White House event trained on this issue: the Bullying Prevention Summit. But even more important than massive awareness raising is the basing of all that attention on substantive, research-based messaging. It is truly heartening to watch a President, First Lady, and administration doing that – as well as modeling the social norms approach to bullying prevention, by focusing attention on the fact that the vast majority of young people don’t engage in social cruelty (see links below for more on social-norms strategies).
After opening remarks from President and Mrs. Obama honoring students making a difference, Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to the President for public engagement, announced a number of national initiatives (after, thankfully, she spoke to the obligation of schools to act swiftly to help students targeted by bullying). The campaigns and programs Jarrett announced include a joint project of Formspring.me and MIT to create an on-site tool that identifies bullying behavior; Facebook’s new social-reporting system; a dedicated page for students at SurveyMonkey that includes a 10-question survey they can distribute via email, fliers, Facebook, and elsewhere; and national campaigns being launched by the National PTA, National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, National School Boards Association, the National Association of Student Councils, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals. [Here's the White House blog post about the event.]
Equally important are some intelligent measures being taken by the federal government….
* Correctly enforcing existing federal law: The Department of Education’s (DOE’s) Office of Civil Rights issued guidance last fall in the form of a “Dear Colleague” letter that clarifies where bullying violates federal education anti-discrimination laws. The letter “explains educators’ legal obligations to protect students from student-on-student racial and national origin harassment, sexual and gender-based harassment, and disability harassment,” the Department says.
* Guidance for state legislation: The DOE issued a memo to governors and state school officers suggesting “key components of comprehensive and effective state anti-bullying laws and policies.”
* Encouraging peer-to-peer mentoring: The Department of Health Resources and Services Administration launched the Stop Bullying Now! Campaign, among other things, to encourage strategic partnerships and projects. It’s aimed at supporting young people aged 5-18 and “includes tool kits to encourage and empower youth to mentor younger children to take action again bullying.”
* Federal funding: The DOE’s Safe and Supportive Schools office’s competitive grant program requires recipient states to “measure school safety, which includes issues of bullying and harassment” by surveying students. “Federal funds are available for interventions in those schools identified as having the greatest need,” and 11 states have received grants already.
The bullying and cyberbullying researchers who spoke right after Mr. and Mrs. Obama were Justin Patchin of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and the Cyberbullying Research Center, Catherine Bradshaw of Johns Hopkins University, George Sugai of the University of Connecticut, and Susan Swearer-Napolitano of the University of Nebraska.
This just scratches the surface of what was accomplished today, and today is a scratch in the surface of so much solid effort in this space, where every act of kindness and respect by a peer and every effort by an adult to support and model these essential values makes a huge difference for someone (which makes a huge difference for all of us).
* “Pink shirts in Canada: Ultimate social norms model”
* “Social norming: *So* key to online safety”
* “Let’s not create a cyberbullying panic,” by my ConnectSafely.org co-director Larry Magid at CNET.
* Archived videos of the summit: In chronological order, they include: President and Mrs. Obama’s opening remarks; the first session with the research panel, moderated by Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett; the first breakout session, Q&A with Domestic Policy Advisor Melody Barnes, Facebook’s Joe Sullivan, MTV’s Jason Rzepka, and author Rosalind Wiseman; and the second breakout Q&A with Sec. Kathleen Sebelius, moderated by iVillage’s Kelly Wallace