COLUMBIA — The night "Josh Evans" began harassing her on MySpace, Megan Meier bought a new black-and-white polka dot party dress and was getting ready for her 14th birthday celebration.
Wednesday night, Megan's mother, Tina Meier, wore a black-and-white polka dot scarf in remembrance of her child. In October 2006, Megan committed suicide after she was bullied online.
Megan ended her life after a boy she befriended online began harassing her. The two exchanged messages, ending with Josh telling Megan the world would be better off without her. After Megan’s death, her parents discovered Josh Evans was a character fabricated by 46-year-old Lori Drew, the mother of a former friend of Megan. Drew lived four houses down the street from the Meiers.
Meier spoke to students at Gentry Middle School on Wednesday morning about bullying and gave a presentation about keeping kids safe on the Internet to about 100 parents and community members that night at Rock Bridge High School.
Meier said before her presentation that she talks about Megan’s life and the dangers of cyberbullying because she doesn’t see another option.
“I didn’t think I could go back to what I call ‘my life before,’” Meier said. “I don’t think Megan would have just let me sit. It was something I had to do.”
Meier told the audience about Megan’s history of depression and the Internet bullying that preceded her death. She also offered tips on how to identify and prevent bullying in all forms. She said parents should teach children to stand up for victims of bullying.
“We have to change the environment of the way we look at a child who comes in to talk to us about if they’re witnessing something,” Meier said during her presentation. “We need to make sure we keep empowering these bystanders because it’s the only way we’re going to win this war.”
Parents should try listening instead of lecturing when talking with their children about bullying, Meier said.
“Don’t interject. Don’t say, ‘well, you should have done this,' 'well, you should have done that,'” Meier said. “Literally keeping silent and letting them talk and hearing what they have to say, they will be more apt to open up to you.”
Gentry outreach counselor Ann Baker said before the presentation that the middle school has had its own instances of cyberbullying. Because technology allows kids to stay constantly connected to one another, the problem is not uncommon, she said.
“There is probably not a school that has not had a problem with cyberbullying,” she said.
Melissa Schnedler, a Stephens College student working as a Rock Bridge counselor for her practicum, said that although she has not yet dealt with an instance of cyberbullying at the school, she knows from experience that it is an important issue to discuss. Schnedler wants to focus on bullying and suicide prevention as a counselor.
“When I was in school, I was bullied a lot,” she said. “Just from having a Facebook myself, (I know) there are things on there that are not appropriate.”
Craig Busseau, principal of Good Shepherd Lutheran School, said he wanted to bring the information he learned from Meier’s presentation back to the school’s staff and parents.
“I’m big on technology in schools, but we need to learn how to control it and help students be able to distinguish between good and bad,” he said.
Beth Busseau, Craig Busseau's wife, said Meier’s presentation was simultaneously informative and moving.
“It’s always good to hear from the emotional perspective,” she said. “There’s just so much more emotion and depth to that than someone who has done research.”
Meier said when she talks to students and parents about cyberbullying, she is hoping she can connect with them on some level.
“If we can get to one child at the end of the day that we can save, it’s all worth it,” she said.