WASHINGTON — Parents are urged to teach their kids to speak up if they witness school bullying in new ads that target an issue that top Obama administration officials vow to make a national priority.
A long-term campaign featuring television, print and web ads was unveiled Monday and will start running in October. The campaign is a joint effort by the Ad Council, a nonprofit that distributes public service announcements, and the Free to Be Foundation, a group that includes entertainers Marlo Thomas, Alan Alda and Mel Brooks.
In one television ad, two girls are seen bullying a schoolmate, mocking her appearance and telling her that nobody likes her. A fourth girl looks on but doesn't intervene.
"Every day, kids witness bullying," says a narrator. "They want to help, but don't know how. Teach your kids how to be more than a bystander."
Online and print ads will warn parents that their kids regularly encounter negative messages such as "you're worthless" and "everybody hates you."
The ads were unveiled Monday at an annual anti-bullying summit hosted by the Department of Education in Washington, where lawmakers, educators and government officials convened to develop a national strategy aimed at ensuring a safe, healthy learning environment for students. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius addressed the summit Monday, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan will deliver a keynote speech on Tuesday.
Once considered an unpleasant but inescapable part of adolescence, bullying has been thrust into the national conversation by a string of high-profile suicides by students who were later revealed to have been bullied.
Of particular concern to education advocates is bullying directed against students perceived to be gay or lesbian – such as Tyler Clementi, the 18-year-old who killed himself in 2010 after allegedly being bullied online by his college roommate, who was convicted of invasion of privacy and other charges for using a webcam to film Clementi and another man kissing.
Sebelius told the summit that suicides by teenagers and children had served as a national wake-up call.
"Bullying is not just a harmless rite of passage, or an inevitable part of growing up," Sebelius said. "It's a systematic situation that threatens the health and well-being of our young people. It's destructive to our communities and devastating to our future."
Sebelius said school districts and states are aggressively working to quell school bullying, noting that 36 state anti-bullying laws were enacted in 2009 and 2010. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has added bullying to its regular survey of risk behavior in schools.
She added that cyberbullying has become a top concern as students increasingly communicate through social media, text messages and the Internet.
"We are all responsible for our children's safety," Sebelius said. "And no one can afford to be a bystander."