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White House conference tackles bullying

By Shawna Shepherd, CNN
The president and first lady will host parents and students Thursday for the Conference on Bullying Prevention.
The president and first lady will host parents and students Thursday for the Conference on Bullying Prevention.
  • NEW: Obama recalls being bullied
  • There will be a Facebook video chat about internet safety
  • Anti-bullying conference is being hosted by the White House
  • The government website is:

Washington (CNN) -- President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama hosted the first-ever White House Conference on Bullying Prevention Thursday.

"If there is one goal of this conference, it is to dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up," Obama said in a speech at the conference.

He added that there were times in his childhood where he himself was bullied.

"I have to say, with big ears and the name that I had, I was not immune. I didn't emerge unscathed," he said.

An anti-bullying PSA released online in January declares that more than six-million schoolchildren experienced bullying in the past six months. As parents of two teenage girls, the issue resonates with the president and first lady.

Father fights bullying at White House

"I spend a lot of time talking to them about putting themselves in other people's shoes and seeing through other people's eyes," Obama said at a town hall, hosted by BET and MTV, in October 2010. "And if somebody is different from you, that's not something you criticize, that's something that you appreciate."

His comments came just weeks after a string of highly publicized suicide cases where boys as young as 13 killed themselves as a result of alleged bullying and harassment at school and over the Internet.

The suicides last fall had one thing in common, homosexuality, which catalyzed thousands of people to tape video messages -- including President Obama, celebrities, politicians -- for the "It Gets Better Project" to inspire and encourage LGBT youth who are struggling.

"I don't know what it's like to be picked on for being gay, but I do know what it's like to grow up feeling that sometimes you don't belong," Obama said in his video message released in October 2010 that became the second most viewed clip on the White House YouTube channel that year.

The conference, put on in coordination with the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services, includes discussions about the effects of bullying on young people, preventing bullying and harassment in schools and the community, and cyberbullying.

President Obama and the first lady met with students and parents from the Conference on Bullying Prevention in the Oval Office on Thursday, prior to delivering remarks in the East Room.

At midday, there will be a Facebook video chat about internet safety.

Kalpen Modi, associate director for the White House Office of Public Engagement, will moderate the discussion with Facebook Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan, MTV Vice President of Public Affairs Jason Rzepka and author Rosalind Wiseman, who writes about teens, parenting and bullying.

There will also be an iVillage video chat with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Sebelius, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes will conclude the conference with closing remarks.

The Department of Education hosted the first-ever National Bullying Summit in August 2010, and a websit, has been created.

In the administration's 2012 fiscal budget, Obama has designated $132 million to combat violence and the bullying of children, providing grants to state and local governments under the Education department's "Successful, Safe, and Healthy Students" program.

Anti-bullying legislation, called the Safe Schools Improvement Act, was introduced this week by Democratic Sen. Bob Casey from Pennsylvania and Republican Sen. Mark Kirk from Illinois.

The bipartisan legislation would require schools and districts receiving designated federal funds to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment. The act would ensure that schools and districts implement effective prevention programs, and would require states to report data on bullying and harassment to the Department of Education.