This month I was one of the members of the White House Press Corps covering president and Mrs. Obama’s White House Conference on bullying. The president was very open about the fact that because of his large ears and first name that he had his share of bullies. I came into the East Room at the White House to observe and report, but I too had my share of the bullies.
As I was standing there, a member of the White House Press Corps--someone who had “made it”-- I could not help but remember Miss Stephens second-grade recess. Those were the days before “bullying” was a hot topic. Teachers let us out the side door to the playground and then went back inside to enjoy a cup of coffee or prepare the next lesson. Only at the end of recess would they pop their head outside and call us in. There was no supervision.
Bullying in our second grade consisted of kids making fun of Debbie, the one plumb girl in the class, excluding her from everything and making her life miserable. For me it was joining a “club.” I wanted to be a part of everything so I did not wind up like Debbie.
The second grade “club” consisted of the two girls who started the “club” using their extended hands and penning us into the corner of the building during each recess (out of the sight of any teachers) and not letting us leave. I remember the inner feeling of being trapped but not wanting Debbie’s fate. I allowed myself to stay a member of the club.
Today, I am good friends with one of the bullies and the other one has friended me on Facebook. I have never spoken with them about that time in second grade but it still stays with me, 52 years later, and I got off easy. Debbie wasn’t so lucky, dying in her late forties from a needle stick injury while caring for a patient. She was a registered nurse.
Michelle Obama is right, we all have a lot of work to do on this issue. Some adults have never grown up, judging from the e-mails that politicians and talk show hosts get. Others do not have a problem with words or actions that their children take.
At the conference Valerie Jarrett, President Obama’s adviser, told the story of her daughter in kindergarten being bullied. It was reported immediately and her daughter received and apology from the bullies the same day. Still, 20 years later she remembers it. Valerie Jarrett’s daughter had an aware parent and an aware school administration. Most kids who are bullied don’t have either.
The statistics are quite staggering. One third of high school kids are bullied, and three million kids have been pushed or spit on. Online bullying is even worse, one in five kids have experienced bullying online. As they said at the White House Conference, kids could in the past often escape bullying by going home (unless a parent or older sibling was also a bully) but now the bullying follows them everywhere.
Many of you might feel that this is not the job of government, that it should be left to the local communities and that we should not be using tax payer dollars to develop websites such as stopbullying.gov. But if the president can use his bully pulpit to stop the real bullying, why not? Over time, it might save taxpayers millions of dollars in mental health care costs and time lost to productivity from the legacy of depression.
Ellen Ratner is Washington bureau chief for Talk Radio News Service and a Fox News contributor.