By Rob Curry
(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG) – Tina Meier, of O’Fallon Mo., shared her tragic experience about the consequences of bullying, relaying a message of awareness Tuesday to local parents, teachers and UCM students at the Warrensburg Middle School Library.
During the school day, Meier spoke to the Middle School students about bullying and its tragic consequences.
Meier established the Megan Meier Foundation in honor of her daughter’s memory, who hung herself on Oct. 16, 2006, after she was bullied online.
She said her daughter always compared herself to other girls, even in kindergarten.
She said self-esteem is internal, and that no matter who tells you you’re beautiful, perfect and smart, we can be our worst critics.
Meier tried to get her daughter involved in activities, to make her feel connected.
“She was always gung-ho in the beginning, but after two or three weeks it was impossible to get her to stick with it,” she said.
By third grade, Megan told her mother she wanted to kill herself. Meier panicked.
“I asked her if she even knew what that means, thinking maybe it was just something she heard at school,” she said.
Megan did know.
“You question yourself as a parent. What have I done wrong?” she said.
Meier explained that dealing with childhood depression is not like taking your child to a physician for a broken bone. It is trial and error through medication and therapy.
She said many children diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, depression and Asperger’s syndrome act differently than other children at a time when fitting in is important to them.
Megan was diagnosed with depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Like many children, she acted out to fit in.
“They’ll do goofy things, like throwing pennies at the back of their teacher’s head, to get other children to laugh,” Meier said.
However, she warned, the children would not rally behind the child acting out, but would point them out to the teacher. The child would not care, accepting even negative attention.
Megan was also bullied about her weight, and her mother noticed that she stopped eating lunch.
“Any change in behavior can be a sign your child is being bullied,” Meier said.
By eighth grade, Megan was finding her place, playing volleyball and going out with friends. Meier let her daughter create a MySpace account, carefully monitoring her activity and keeping the password to herself.
Eventually, a boy that Megan did not know named Josh added her. Meier reluctantly let her daughter “friend” the boy.
The two got along, and their conversations were polite, for a while. One day, just weeks before Megan’s 14th birthday, Josh messaged her: “I don’t know if I want to be friends with you anymore because I’ve heard that you are not very nice to your
Megan did not understand, and pressed Josh to tell her what he meant. On Oct. 16, 2006, Meier said Megan was in high spirits.
Megan’s birthday party invitations had gone out, and she logged on to MySpace to
see if Josh had replied. Meier struggled with the story here, apologizing.
“I’ve told this so many times without crying,” she said.
Meier said she told Megan to sign off the computer. Megan pleaded to stay online, explaining how mean everyone was being to her. She needed to defend herself.
Fifteen minutes later, Megan called her mother in tears.
“They are posting bulletins about me: ‘Megan Meier is a slut.’ ‘Megan Meier is fat,’” she said.
The last message from Josh was, “The world would be a better place without you.”
After discussing the incident with her husband in the kitchen, Meier said she was struck with a horrible feeling. She found Megan hung in her closet. Paramedics revived her, but she was in a comatose state. She died the next day.
Josh Evans was not a real person. He was the creation of one of their neighbors, a mother and her daughter, who knew about Megan’s struggle with depression. The daughter had a falling out with Megan, and the two created the account to humiliate
At first, Meier said she wanted retribution.
“It took everything for me not to go four houses down and do something to them,” she said.
Looking for a way to prosecute the neighbor, she discovered there were no cyberbullying laws. Focusing on getting the laws changed, she published their story in local suburban journals.
“Suddenly the entire world was in our face with cameras,” she said. “There were hours and hours of interviews.”
The governor of Missouri asked Meier to be on the Internet Security Taskforce, and legislation in 2008 made it possible to prosecute Internet harassment and stalking.
Few people have been prosecuted. However, a federal grand jury indicted and convicted Lori Drew, the mother who pretended to be Josh Evans, but her conviction was reversed on appeal in 2009.
Meier said she realized the trial was not about Drew.
“I looked at her and thought, ‘You’re just a waste of space,’” she said.
Instead, she said it was about justice, not vengeance, and decided to create the Megan Meier’s Foundation. Meier spreads awareness about protecting children from bullying and educating kids about the consequences of bullying.
“We do a good job talking to our kids about sex, drugs and alcohol, but we don’t really know how to talk to them about depression and self-harm,” she said.
She said children and teens seek acceptance through risky behavior.
This impulsiveness translates to the Internet and social media. Meier advised parents to monitor their children’s Internet activity and to use the Internet with their children.
“Talk to children about broadcasting too much personal info on the Internet,” she said.
She also gave parents tips to stop cyber bullying: Keep evidence, block bullies and report any threats to the police.
She said parents and kids can also break the bystander effect. If one person stands up, others will stand up to the bully.
In her presentations with kids, she said she has been surprised by the lack of empathy.
“You really have to make it personal for them to understand,” she said. “Ask them, ‘What if this were happening to your family?’”
More information on the Megan Meier Foundation is available at www.meganmeierfoundation.org. You can connect with the foundation on Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, Twitter and LinkedIn.