WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama says he endured school-yard harassment because of his large ears and funny name and he wants today's students to know bullying is unacceptable.
Obama and his wife, Michelle, convened a conference on bullying Thursday, shining the national spotlight on an issue that touches millions of youngsters each year. More than 150 students, parents, teachers and others met at the White House to discuss with the Obamas and administration officials how to work together to make schools and communities safer.
"If there's one goal, it's to dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage," Obama said. "With big ears and the name that I have, I wasn't immune. I didn't emerge unscathed."
Obama said bullying is, in fact, damaging and that too often grown-ups have turned a blind eye to what is going on by chalking it up to kids being kids.
Obama urged parents and teachers to create a support system for their children and students.
"As adults, we can lose sight of how hard it can be sometimes to be a kid," he said. "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."
The White House say one-third of the nation's students, or 13 million children, have been bullied. The issue is gaining attention in part because new technologies like Facebook and Twitter are used for bullying, and because of high-profile coverage of teens who committed suicide to escape the taunting.
Families of some of those young people joined Obama at the White House.
"They had no escape from taunting and bullying," Obama said. "No family should go through what these families have gone through."
Experts say young people who are bullied are more likely to have trouble in school, abuse drugs and alcohol, and have health problems. Obama has tried to tie preventing bullying to his larger education agenda, warning that failing to address the issue puts the nation at risk of falling behind other countries in academics and preparedness for college.
Several administration officials, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, are leading discussion groups during the conference.
The White House says the administration will continue to work on bullying prevention through partnerships with state and local organizations and the private sector, including Facebook and MTV.