By DAVID CRARY
AP National Writer
NEW YORK — Next fall, when millions of kids tune into Cartoon Network to watch Bugs Bunny, Scooby-Doo and other favorites, they’ll encounter something new – an ambitious campaign to enlist them as foot soldiers in the fight against bullying.
Unlike many bullying programs, this one is geared toward middle school, where experts say bullying is most common. It also targets not bullies nor the bullied, but kids who witness bullying, giving them appropriate techniques to intervene.
“There are specific strategies young people can learn to make a difference in their schools and communities,” said Alice Cahn, Cartoon Network’s vice president of social responsibility. “We decided to focus on those who watch bullying happen – the bystander community – who know they should do something, but are not sure what.”
The anti-bullying campaign includes content in the cartoons themselves, in public service ads, in an online curriculum and on CNN, which will include complementary programming for parents.
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Susan Limber, of Clemson University’s Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life, said she was intrigued by the proposed fusion of Cartoon Network and CNN efforts.
“I like the fact we’re bridging the generations,” said Limber, who served on a panel of bullying experts used by Cartoon Network. “Kids alone can’t address bullying. They need adults to take the issue seriously and be there to help.”
In partnership with a federal agency, the network plans to start the campaign Oct. 1, both on the air and on its popular, game-filled website.
The idea for the campaign arose last summer, when Cartoon Network polled children from its audience on their worries. War and the economic woes of their parents topped the list, but the children said they were powerless to resolve those problems. Bullying, in contrast, surfaced as a problem children felt they could help combat.
Cahn noted that PBS, through shows like ‘Sesame Street‘, has been teaching anti-bullying lessons to preschoolers for decades, but that this program is different in targeting viewers in or approaching middle school.
“There’s never been a sustained approach aimed at the audience that’s growing away from teacher/parent involvement in their lives and is beginning to make decisions for themselves,” Cahn said. “We can be that expert source to help them stop a problem we know is really bothering them.”
The campaign plans to make use of “teachable moments” in the cartoons themselves, Cahn said.
“When the show is over, we can very quickly say, ‘Remember this bit? If you want more information, look at our website.'”
Bullying prevention gained prominence and funding following the deadly 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado. Several recent cases of youth suicides linked to bullying have kept the topic in the spotlight.
Harvard Medical School psychologist Ronald Slaby, who also is serving on Cartoon Network’s advisory panel, said the “bystander strategy” is considered the most promising approach to curtailing bullying.
Studies indicate that about 85 percent of bullying incidents are witnessed by bystanders, yet only about one-fifth of the time do the witnesses intervene on behalf of the target, Slaby said.
“The bystander is almost always there,” Slaby said. “They can be pivotal in allowing the bullying to continue and escalate, or to stopping it.”
The Cartoon Network campaign, still being designed, will offer these bystanders a range of tactics for confronting the bully or alerting adults.
“It’s almost like a game that’s being played,” Slaby said. “If you get a child to think strategically that they have a role to play as a bystander, that’s the key.”
The network’s website will include links to the federal Health Resources and Services Administration’s Stop Bullying Now campaign.
Stephanie Bryn, the agency’s project officer, said Cartoon Network’s campaign appeared to be the most comprehensive anti-bullying effort yet by any of major youth-oriented U.S. networks. But the issue also is being addressed by Cartoon Network’s competitors.
Nickelodeon said the back-to-school ‘Nick News‘ episode airing this fall will cover bullying, offering the firsthand perspective of kids.
Disney Channel said its live action and animated series regularly include anti-bullying themes. One of the channel’s stars, Demi Lovato of ‘Sonny With A Chance‘ and ‘Camp Rock,’ is a national spokeswoman for Teens Against Bullying.
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Cartoon Network, available in 97 million U.S. homes, says it averages more than 1 million viewers at any point between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., including 1.4 million during 8-10 p.m. prime time. The vast majority are 6- to 14-year-olds – more than two-thirds of them boys.
The network says its website, CartoonNetwork.com, is averaging 4.5 million unique visits per month. It features more than 200 free-to-play online games.
Among the highlights of the network’s planned fall schedule is a new 26-episode half-hour series called ‘The Looney Tunes Show,’ featuring Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck as roommates with the other Looney Tunes characters as their neighbors.
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