March 1, 2004 -- Federal health officials unveiled a campaign Monday designed to cut down on what they say is a problem of bullying in American schools.
The effort consists of new public service announcements and web sites encouraging kids, teachers, and parents to help stop intimidating behavior, which surveys show affects up to 30% of all kids.
Officials pointed to research showing that children who are routinely bullied are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and even consider suicide. Those kids also consistently miss more school than kids who are not bothered, according to a 2002 study published by the American Medical Association.
Likewise, studies suggest that children who bully others are more likely to become involved in drinking, drugs, violence, and illegal activity, though there is no evidence that bullying is the cause of those later behaviors.
"If kids are going to school and they're intimidated by bullying, they're not likely to learn," U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona told a group of fifth and sixth graders at the KIPP DC: Key Academy in Washington. "It takes your self-confidence away," he said.
Carmona dismissed the notion that enduring bullying is a harmless right of passage for most kids.
"We have data now showing that it is counterproductive to learning and it is a public health problem," he tells WebMD in an interview.
Officials unveiled a series of new TV spots that encourage kids and parents to take an active role in stopping bullying when they see it. Kids and teachers can also visit www.stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov to view cartoons and get tips on stopping bullying.
"Until an entire school takes on the effort and says that bullying is not tolerated, it is just not going to work," said Peter van Dyck, MD, MPH, director of maternal and child health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Erika Harold, the current Miss America, told kids that she was bullied in grade school because of her mixed racial background. The abuse reached the point of death threats. "People weren't willing to take a stand when I was younger," she said.
Brielle McClain, a 12-year-old student from Van Nuys, Calif., said that name-calling and teasing made it difficult for her to attend classes when she was younger. "I would do just about anything so that I could stay home," she said.