Recap of White House Conf on Bullying Prevention, Pt.1

Mar. 17, 2011 Unplugging for a day is a respite, but being gone for a week amidst news of tsunami disasters and first ever media moments like the March 10 White House Conference on Bullying Prevention plunged me into perpetual ‘catch up’ mode…

Toss in this week’s March 16 FTC Privacy Hearings on Do Not Track policies and datamining behavioral profiles (see key quotes from hearing) and you can almost hear that ‘screen sucking sound’ of my carefree quiet swept out to sea, replaced by urgent headline news and important media moments poking like an incessant Facebook friend.

Today I’m going to attempt to recap some of the anti-bullying summit gleaning info from those who attended (MsTwixt, DC “tweens” reporter for the Examiner) link lobbing from some of the official feeds and hub sources to recap audio and video…Then follow up with separate commentary and tips from two leaders in this realm: Rosalind Wiseman’s bullying prevention tips (she has devoted her career to creating cultures of dignity, offering sage parent/youth advice that cuts through rhetoric to achieve tangible solutions) and Jason Rzepka, VP Public Affairs and conduit for MTV’s growing prosocial very successful peer to peer campaign A Thin which combats abuse enhancing digital citizenship in the process.

On March 10th I was out of the country, but I DID pop into the Facebook livestream feed long enough to see a few friend’s names roll by as excellent  resources (Adina’s Deck, an award-winning DVD/cybersleuth film using mystery to engage kids in a ‘whodunnit’ session, Anne Collier of NetFamilyNews and parent/youth forum, as well as some recent buzz about the screen adaptation of Jay Asher’s bullying tome, “13 reasons why” slating Selena Gomez in the lead role).

Mostly, I was pensively eyebrow raising with curiosity and incredulity that the pervasiveness of bullying had escalated to the point of a National summit in the first place.

As one who is often reminded that I ‘breathe air inside the youth media bubble’ with an intake far more heightened than the average Joe, the mere existence of the summit was a cue to me that we’ve gone beyond ‘raising awareness’ to accelerate into taking action.

The sheer existence of the summit itself and an all new launch of the hub for vital resources is a cue we’ve moved beyond sensationalized hype, headlines and media perceptions of ‘a bullying industry’ toward solutions-based action, stemming from the acknowledgment that this is becoming a socioemotional public health problem hammering kids at increasingly younger ages.

I felt that familiar pang of ‘whoa boy, this is serious now’ akin to a disaster relief area that’s just called in the National Guard to mop up a mess or curb the casualties.

In a sense, that’s exactly what’s happening—Online, offline and with a surround sound context that springs from the pages of Jenn Pozner’s Reality Bites Back book…I’m not going to make a media causation link, but rather, a larger ‘cultural’ one.

Here’s an overview video to gauge the tonality and objectives of the summit, followed by a guest post by “MsTwixt” who attended and reported out via her Twitter feed as well. (Note: She uses her business rather than her surname for her childrens’ privacy)

About 1:12 into this video recap, First Lady Michelle Obama sealed her “mama cred” with yours truly in “speak from the heart” relatable touchpoints that made me nod, ‘Mhmn, you got that right,’ a skill set that has repeatedly endeared the pair as ‘Presidential parents’ not just leaders of our country.

“It’s hard to know what’s REALLY going on in our kids’ lives because they don’t always tell us…” she said, “Sasha’s response to ‘What happened at school today? Nothing.” That’s it. And so we’re like, “Well, then we’re takin’ you outta that school!”

All joking aside, Michelle Obama taps into the squirmy subject matter we can all relate to, namely, most of us are not naïve enough to be duped into thinking our kids are ‘sharing’ freely with us, despite this trackable, ubiquitous age of transparency.

Still, there are those smug parents who dismiss bullying warning signs with a false sense of security, crowing, “No worries, my kids ‘friended me’ on Facebook so I see it all.”

Similar to the hidden cameras capturing “My kid would never bully” (see MSNBC  series March 7, 2011) it’s these parents that need the wake up call the most. Numbers reflecting 3 million kids a year bullying should be a veritable bracer, but again, there’s a clarion call to define what constitutes bullying in order to put those figures in context.

Decoding the difference between the ‘j/k’ joshes that can dig deep and wound like a passive aggressive slingshot and threats that trigger heavy hands of law enforcement with arrests and ‘zero tolerance’ intervention can be dicey.

This is the society in which we live now, with insta-alarm, and “act/react’ often happening in nanoseconds.

On my voicemail this week returning from my trip for example, the school principal informs of an arrest of a teen boy from online bullying threats made at a nearby school which blasted all parents via SchoolLoop to essentially “keep calm, carry on’ and quell rumor mongering…It had already blown over by the time I returned, but clearly had caused a kerfluffle in the district to warrant taking seriously.

If this is the ONLY thing we take away from the existence of the recent bullying summit, to TAKE KIDS SERIOUSLY with this issue, then we’ve already made progress. But:

Caution not to OVER-react and risk raising fragile, sheltered “hothouse flowers” rather than resilient beings:

Give kids some credit.

Let them slosh in the mud and get dirty. (note diff between flinging mud and rinsing it off or stepping around the puddles)

Much has been made of the sophistication of kids’ workarounds and social media steganography like Wired Magazine’s Clive Thompson unearthing coded subtexts and “secret messages” in plain view of parents on Facebook status lines.

For those of us who deep dive into these worlds, we know full well kids are extraordinarily bright and conversant in “speaking many languages” among peers and adults…From coded subtexts, special meanings in song lyrics, back channels and untraceable IM that would make Mata Hari swoon, I’d argue this is the transparency conundrum of the digital age…

Kids NEED their privacy to developmentally work through some of their ‘stuff,’ and frankly this seems more like a solid sign of youth resilience and coping skills to me.

Further, look at the innovative use of social media AGAINST bullying in the middle-east uprisings, as I wrote in this piece “Youth in Egypt: Freedom, Phones and the New World Order

…Or what about the opposition in Libya who used youth online dating site Mawada to workaround the powerhouse bullying by governmental crackdowns and talk in code for their own communication access? (NPR story here) Brilliant! I love the idea of “Cupid convos” being safety relays…go youth!

Point is, things are not always ‘as they seem’ whether bullied or bullying, victim or bystander. It takes critical thinking to deconstruct the nuance.

More examples? Often regarded as the  cyberscourge of the internet for anonymous rude, crude queries, bullying snipes and snarky take-downs, analysts and educators have continuously scrambled to track the trends and determine “What’s REALLY going on” in and around the Formspring site behaviorally and psycho-socially.

I’ve monitored its evolution hands-on with teens quite a bit since its Nov ’09 launch alternating between pie-eyed disgust and adolescent/developmental understanding, observing as it’s gone mobile, grown from zero to 40 million, and now, recently partnered to curb bullying with MIT.

Though it’s still a mish-mash of a challenge to muddle through the behavioral ‘whys,’ critical thinkers can see the many shades of the rainbow in play here, far from black and white absolutes.

In fact, social media researcher danah boyd isn’t the ONLY one who has witnessed evidence of tinkering with bullying storylines, from self-aggrandizing bravado to malicious infused subplots (see her article on Digital Self-Harm and other Acts of Self-Harassment) Yep, strangely enough, self-bullying is yet another form of attention on the virtual stage, and though it really shouldn’t surprise me given the tools and teens’ media environments, it still does.

We’ve run some tests to see if you can infuse POSITIVE statements into NEGATIVE Formspring anonymous conversations in order to ‘turn that tanker around’ when a convo is trending toward a bullying direction to see if it will ‘right itself’ like a ship listing in one direction propped up by ‘the bystander effect’ safely behind a keyboard. NOT saying any more on that one for now…It’s anecdotal versus scientific, much like many of my hunches, but fascinating media fodder nonetheless.

Without further ado, here’s MsTwixt who attended the summit, with one part of her synopsis and coverage (you can read her extensive notes and posts on her blog) and a few Q&A queries I lobbed her way for a response. Stay tuned for multi-part interviews with some of the panelists at the summit on her blog, and here as well as I chat with Rosalind Wiseman and Jason Rzepka soon…

Recap: What Parents & Schools Can Do About Bullying

by Guest Correspondent, reporter for Examiner’s DC Tweens (her part one here)
Last week we attended the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention.

We posted our summary of the day’s events and wanted to share some key quotes from top government officials and thought-leaders in this space. (You can view our minute-by-minute conference updates on our Twitter feed with the hashtag: #stopbullyingnow.)

Major discussion at the Conference focused on linking anti-bullying measures directly to academic performance – that is, school climates that do not tolerate bullying in any form are also the same climates that make academic performance possible.

Another major point made by Administration officials was that bullying is not simply an issue for schools to resolve – it is a whole community issue that involves schools, parents, law enforcement, and community members.

A panel of experts participated in this session which was moderated by Senior White House Adviser Valerie Jarrett.

The panelists were: Susan Swearer-Napalitano (from the University of Nebraska), Justin Patchin (from the University of Wisconsin), Catherine Bradshaw (from Johns Hopkins University), and George Sugai (from the University of Connecticut).

They shared the following about what parents and schools can do about bullying:

* Although there is lots of press about the misuse of technologies such as texting and social networking, the good news is that the overwhelming majority of teens and tweens use technology in positive, healthy ways. So don’t just focus on the negatives or “blame” technology.

* We need to change the overall climate in our schools to prevent bullying. This means we need to: 1) actively supervise our kids both in person and online; 2) vocally and publicly acknowledge those kids who work to prevent bullying; and 3) change the dialogue about bullying from “this what happens to occur at school” to “bullying has an enormous negative impact on learning.” Professor Sugai quoted research that found that schools with strong anti-bullying climates also had stronger academic achievement.

* Professor Bradshaw urged that anti-bullying programs have two-tiers: one for the victims, and one for the bullies. Her work found that bullies have underlying causes for their negative behavior including violence at home, developmental delays, and others.

* Valerie Jarrett asked the panel for ideas on how to make it safe to report bullying so that students wouldn’t be so hesitant to report bullying (this was another theme from the conference; more on this later).

* Professor Patchin counseled that action upon such reports be swift; otherwise all parties are bogged down in an interminably long process and that dampens participation. (Perhaps schools should have an anonymous Bullying Tip line?) His research also found that only 15% of bullying cases are actually reported.

* Professor Sugai added that anti-bullying programs must be simple and safe in addition to swift – the reporting process should be straightforward and easy to understand and use. Finally, it is not enough to have a bullying reporting process – a bullying prevention program is essential to head off problems before they escalate.

* Professor Patchin warned that a knee-jerk reaction to cyberbullying is to remove the technology – parents and schools respond by banning social networks and mobile phones. But doing so won’t stop the bullying since his research found that cyberbullies and real-life bullies are the same people – so the bullying will continue. Rather, he pleaded for parents to learn the technologies their kids use and be able to help their kids navigate them safely. This means learning about privacy controls on Facebook (see tips!) monitoring where kids are going online (lots of companies can help with this), etc.

* Anti-bullying programs need to extend beyond the classroom to the hallways, to the bus aisles, to the libraries, to cafeterias – every part of the school. The effort must be holistic in its application to include teachers, all school staff, coaches, etc.

Several new initiatives were announced at the March 10th  Conference including:

•    The federal government’s new site to provide “one stop shopping” for education about bullying and resources to set up prevention programs is at

It is designed to serve as a starting point for parents, students, schools, and communities to take a stand against bullying.
•    Facebook announced a new app called Over the Line with which users can upload examples of “digital drama” and ask others in the Facebook community if such actions crossed the line into bullying. The goal is to give users an outlet for sharing bullying examples with the hope that the online community rallies against bullying posts and photos.

(Amy’s note: see extensive new MTVact developments from their fabulous A Thin site)
•    Other national initiatives were announced today by MTV, the PTA, Formspring, and the Cartoon Network.

Some key quotes/takeaways from the day include:

  • “Why is the White House talking about bullying? Because we know it’s far too prevalent, and we CAN fix it. The consequences are too great not to – kids won’t be successful.  There are stories today about sadness and triumph. Today we celebrate our young leaders who are working to make a difference.” —Melody Barnes, White House Domestic Policy Council Director

  • “The goal of today’s conference is to put a spotlight on this national tragedy. Too many keep their pain a secret, and but it shouldn’t be that way.” —Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of HHS

  • “I wasn’t immune to bullying with these big ears and my name. I was not unscathed.” —President Obama

  • “Our message to bullying victims is: You deserve to be respected and treated fairly.” —Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of HHS

  • “We need to make heroes out of those people who stand-up to bullying. They need to feel the light on their good work.” —John Gomperts, Director of AmeriCorps
  • “We need kids to be at the center of this effort to solve [bullying].” —John Gomperts, Director of AmeriCorps

  • “You can’t turn off cyberbullying by turning off the technology. Kids are connected all the time.” —Tina Meier, the Megan Meier Foundation

  • “We need to use technology productively to prevent and deter cyberbullying.” —Mandeep Dhillon, CEO of Togetherville

  • “In our schools, we need reading, writing, ‘rithmetic and respect. Enforcement picks up the pieces after bullying, but we need prevention.” —Tom Perez, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights
  • “There is no quick solution, but sustained attention and community-wide involvement will result in one.” —Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of HHS

  • “No school can be great if it’s not safe. You cannot learn if you are in fear.” —Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education

  • “We have to make this issue our own.” —Melody Barnes, White House Domestic Policy Council Director

We’ll break up our report on the day’s events into a few posts as SO much material was covered…See for more on the summit. —-MsTwixt

Amy’s Note: Hearty thanks to MsTwixt, a Yale-educated mother of four – including three tween-age girls. MsTwixt interacts with hundreds of tweens and their parents on a monthly basis as CEO of Twixt, a ‘tween boutique in Washington, DC and as DC Tweens reporter for

Thanks for sharing this recap. Visit her blog for her follow-up interviews forthcoming with Togetherville, Everloop and other industry panels from the summit. You can connect via MsTwixt [at] gmail [dot] com, her blog, Twitter stream, YouTube channel, “like” her Facebook page, and find out more about her business here.

Stay tuned for upcoming interview chats on Shaping Youth with MsTwixt and panelists Rosalind Wiseman and Jason Rzepka shown below in this summit video

Going Back to the Basics: A Reality Check on Bullying Prevention Tips (Rosalind Wiseman)

Takeaways From The Bullying Prevention Summit (Anne Collier)

MTV, An Unlikely But Welcomed Voice in The Battle to Protect Youth Online (Internet Safety 101/Enough is Enough Blog)

SXSW: Coming of Age Social (South By Southwest Panelists)

Related Reading from NetFamily News



  1. Concerned Mom says

    I’m so concerned about the bullying in America. I feel like bullying has gotten worse for my youngest son, than it was for my oldest son 5 years ago. I think the biggest influence of this change is the violence in the media and video games today.

  2. The most important part of the solution – the development of empathy. The ability to see someone else’s self as my self.

  3. that is a very severe problem….i am sure that the main thing we must change is the media..the media is so violent we just talk about prevention but still give wrong education in all types of the media… how can we ask the kids to act differently?

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