WASHINGTON -- Speaking as both a parent and the president, Barack Obama told young people that they shouldn't have to accept bullying as an inevitable part of growing up.
The president and first lady Michelle Obama convened a conference on preventing bullying Thursday, seeking to shine a spotlight on an issue that affects millions of young people each year. More than 150 students, parents and educators gathered at the White House to discuss with the Obamas and administration advisers ways they can work together to make schools and communities safer.
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"If there's one goal, it's to dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage," Obama said.
Obama urged the parents and teachers in the conference 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," Obama 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 has gained increased attention in recent years in part because of the impact of new technologies like Facebook and Twitter, and because of high-profile coverage of young people who have committed suicide after being bullied.
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 issues. Obama has tried to tie preventing bullying to his larger education agenda, warning that failing to address bullying puts the nation at risk of falling behind other countries in academics and college readiness.
Several administration officials, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, are leading breakout sessions during the daylong White House conference. The White House says the administration will continue to work on bullying prevention after the conference through partnerships with state and local organizations and the private sector, including Facebook and MTV.