ST. CHARLES – October is National Bullying Prevention Month and one local mother is speaking out against bullying.
Tina Meier, founder of the Megan Meier Foundation, talks from personal experience about how cyberbullying has affected her family. She is doing all that she can to help protect future victims in her daughter’s name.
Megan Meier was 13 years old when she was bullied by an adult and two teens, which resulted in her later suicide.
“Megan was this amazing kid, but struggled with bullying, self-esteem, and switching different schools from 7th grade and going into eighth grade,” said Tina.
Tina said that Megan moved schools because she was being bullied.
“She wanted a Myspace account and I let her after several days have one with a lot of rules in place,” Tina said. “But unfortunately, Megan was cyberbullied by an adult neighbor, who pretended to be a boy on Myspace.”
Megan attempted to take her life on October 16th, but then passed away on October 17th of 2006.
“This all started because it was a friendship Megan had with the daughter down the street,” said Meier. “[The adult’s] daughter and their friendship dwindled from 7th going into eighth grade. They were in different schools, and they heard Megan was calling her daughter a name.”
Tina said the adult neighbor created a fake Myspace account to gain Megan’s trust. She did this to see if Megan was talking about the neighbor’s daughter.
“Which for the 5 1/2 weeks Megan was not talking about her daughter,” said Tina. “I talk to kids and individuals about creating fake accounts. [Sometimes they] think it’s a joke, or it’s funny, [but] these are the tragedies that can happen from it.”
When a text message is sent, there is no context or information behind these messages other than words.
Without that non-verbal communication, the reader can create their own opinion, feelings, or expectations, regardless of what the sender meant.
“We don’t know what the tone is. We don’t understand the emojis all the time and you don’t know what the other person on the other end is feeling. So, your words have action,” said Tina.
Tina said they found out six weeks after Megan passed that there was no boy named Josh Evans. Instead, “Josh Evens” was the adult neighbor, a friend that worked in the house, and the neighbor’s daughter.
“It was her, and it was also the 18-year-old girl and the 14-year-old, the daughter. They would all sit down and orchestrate these ideas,” said Tina.
Tina suspects that it was the adult neighbor and the 18-year-old who came up with a plan.
Fake social media accounts are dangerous. These accounts can be created to extort money, harass people online, spread false rumors, and even destroy a person’s reputation.
Catfishing is when someone sets up a fake online account to trick or groom people who are looking for love. This usually results in the fake account getting money out of the victim.
But the account could also be trying to get other things too. There are cases of fake accounts being used as sex trafficking or even to gain personal information.
Once the situation goes too far, there can be negative effects for the victim. When someone is catfished it can be damaging to their mental health, cause anxiety and depression or the person might feel violated.
“They take these drawn-out stories and then the person on the other side is emotionally connected. They’re connected to this relationship, and so [the victim] is going through all these [excuses] and then [the fake account] dies off,” said Tina. “And the kids or the person sitting there are just destroyed, with no idea what happened or why.”
Victims of cyberbullying often don’t know who is behind the accounts that are abusing them. Sometimes the victims can suspect who the bullies are but are unable to prove it.
“I mean you see this stuff happening so often and it’s because people want to know. Sometimes it’s to be harmful on purpose, sometimes it’s to be curious,” said Tina. “But at the end of the day, when you use it to be hurtful and mean or saying things, it’s definitely harmful.”
Megan has helped many people. Her mom started the Megan Meier Foundation in her daughter’s story. To this day, Tina says that she has people still relating to Megan’s story.
“I definitely think the impact has helped more people than we will ever know. Because Megan story did go viral, that was never a plan, it just happened,” said Tina.
The Missouri Law says that bullying is intimidation or harassment that would cause a reasonable student to feel in danger of being physically harmed.
“You actively listen to what [your child/student] saying and validate how they feel, not their activities, and what they’re doing. You confirm how they feel,” said Tina. “You say “I hear you’re going through this, and I hear you’re going through that, and you’re scared, how do we work together? How do I help you?””
She says that kids will not come to you about everything, but this way it is an open dialog.
The MMF has eight therapists that can help bring support to families and victims.
The counseling is free. They also have resources online that can help parents who need support.
Tina has educational programs where she goes around the county and talks to schools and other public speaking groups.
To learn more about the MMF check out their website: meganmeierfoundatoin.org