Tina Meier knows first-hand the harm that words can do. Meier’s daughter, Megan, who was thirteen at the time, committed suicide in 2006 after falling victim to a cruel cyberbullying attack. In her keynote address at the on Wednesday night, Meier, a St. Charles County resident, shared her family's story with a receptive audience. She described the dangers of cyberbullying, the increasing epidemic of young people using the Internet as a bullying tool, and outlined a plan of preventative action for parents and school administrators.
Jewish Family and Children’s Service and the Child Abuse Prevention Program jointly sponsored the program as part of a month-long awareness initiative.
As a parent, Meier had done everything right. When Megan had a MySpace account, Meier set strict ground rules and was in sole possession of the account’s password. She knew everything that was going on in Megan’s online social life.
A turn of events led to Megan’s suicide on October 16, 2006. Megan received extremely abusive messages from an online friend who she thought was a cute boy named Josh. The situation escalated until Megan could not take it anymore. "Josh" never existed, and the messages actually came from Laurie Drew, an adult neighbor, and Drew’s thirteen-year-old daughter, who had been Megan’s friend before the two had a falling out. There were no laws in Missouri at the time to under which to prosecute Laurie Drew. She was convicted in federal court based on computer fraud statutes, but as The Wall Street Journal and other outlets reported, that conviction was later overturned.
Tina Meier has risen from her family’s tragedy to become a sought-after speaker about cyberbullying and bullying prevention. She founded the non-profit Megan Meier Foundation in 2007. She speaks at schools and community centers around the country, encouraging students, parents, and administrators to take on bullying before it gets out of control.
The strategies she outlined included increased regulation of kids’ online activity. Parents “give our kids things and immediately they think it’s theirs and they can do whatever they want with it,” Meier said of computers and cell phones. She encouraged parents to supervise their children’s online activity, control computer settings, and even to ‘Google’ their kids’ names frequently to see what is out there online. She said that too many kids do not understand that once something goes out over the Internet, you can’t take it back.
Meier tells students to tell an adult immediately if they see bullying going on and to not be afraid to intervene on behalf of victims if they feel comfortable doing so. She said that too many kids see bullying going on but say “it’s not their problem.”
Meier has also been involved with getting legislation passed to more teeth in anti-bullying law. Senate Bill 818 passed in 2008 in Missouri, and it classifies harassment as a Class A misdemeanor. But Meier said that too many prosecutors are still not aggressively taking on bullying cases. As of 2010, every school district in Missouri must have anti-bullying codes in place, and Meier is now working with the state legislature to define a standard protocol for disciplinary action when bullying takes place.
Meier would like to see an anti-bullying law adopted at the federal level. She recently attended the 2011 White House Anti-Bullying Conference in Washington, D.C. and is hopeful that the law will start to “move in the right direction.” First amendment watchdogs are not in favor of increased online regulation, but Meier feels that when it comes to children’s safety, “we all have the right to voice our opinions…but [bullying] is not your first amendment right.”