Forty-two percent of children have been the target of cyberbullying, and almost one in four have been bullied more than once, according to www.cybersafephilly.com. But statistics do not convey the personal tragedy of children like Megan Meier, who took her own life after being bullied weeks before her 14th birthday.
Now Tina Meier, Megan’s mother and founder of the Megan Meier Foundation, travels the country sharing Megan’s story and promoting safe Internet practices. Tina is the guest speaker at 10 Verizon Cybersafe Philly summits across Southeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Summits are scheduled at 7 p.m. April 18 at Souderton Area High School, 621 Lower Road, Souderton, and at 7 p.m. May 16 at Pennridge High School, 1228 N. Fifth St., Perkasie. All parents in the community are welcome to attend the free summits.
Along with the parent summits, Tina offers a program for high school students. She will share Megan’s story with SAHS students April 19 and then discuss how they can protect themselves from bullying.
“They think about right now and today, not tomorrow,” Tina said. One of Tina’s goals is to help students realize that “the things they do and the actions they take can really, truly hurt someone else.”
Peer leaders are chosen from each grade to participate in a 45-minute breakout session, during which they discuss what they are going through in school and workable solutions.
The breakout session serves to “get them empowered in their own schools to make change,” Tina said.
Cyberbullying can happen in a split second, and its targets can be the popular as well as the unpopular children, according to Tina.
Some people propose that the solution is as simple as turning off the computer, but things may be more complicated than that.
“If it was as easy as that, we would have the situation solved,” Tina said. “What people don’t understand is that the entire way children communicate now is through technology.”
Taking away their communication medium is the same as taking away their voice, according to Tina.
Some children, however, can shake off the cruel attacks while others internalize them.
“How do we determine who’s going to be able to cope with it?” Tina said.
Losing a child is a crisis that no parent is prepared for, Tina said, but after Megan’s death Oct. 17, 2006, she realized that she had two options.
“I could continue to be angry and mad that it happened to Megan,” Tina said. “It really almost isolated me. It kept me in one spot of aggravation and frustration.”
Tina had plenty to be angry about, since her daughter was cyberbullied by a former friend and the friend’s mother, neighbors living down the street from the Meiers, according to www.meganmeierfoundation.org.
Attending support groups, Tina saw other parents in that same place of frustration seven years after the death of a child.
“I didn’t want to be like that,” Tina said.
So instead, she started the Megan Meier Foundation, which has blossomed into what Tina said is “more than full-time work.”
“I thought about all the things Megan is about,” Tina said. “She liked helping others.”
One of Tina’s first tasks was getting the law changed, since no laws existed in Missouri at the time of Megan’s death to convict the offender. Working with Missouri Sen. Scott Rupp and Gov. Matt Blunt’s Internet Task Force for the State of Missouri, Tina advocated for the passage of Missouri Senate Bill 818, which became law Aug. 28, 2008, according to meganmeierfoundation.org.
Most laws addressing Internet harassment or stalking have been reactive, according to Tina. “You don’t realize there’s a flaw in the law until these situations come about,” Tina said.
Attendees at a White House anti-bullying summit March 10 discussed federal legislation addressing Internet harassment, an important topic since each state currently has its own legislation, Tina said.
“We have to get people together to figure out how we can deal with it without stepping on the freedom of speech issue or making it so restrictive that we won’t get anything done,” Tina said.
Tina said she is grateful that Verizon chose her to speak at its cybersafety summits.
“I can speak about it, but to have a large company get behind this — that’s huge,” Tina said.
Verizon has been engaged in Internet safety on multiple fronts, but 2011 is the first year that the company has sponsored summits across the region, according to Lee Gierczynski, a Verizon representative.
Verizon’s FIOS services offer parental controls and other cybersafety tools, and the Verizon Foundation supports initiatives that fund nonprofits to provide programs that reduce children’s risks online, Gierczynski said.
“Verizon’s business is centered on technology and high-speed Internet,” Gierczynski said. “We felt we have a responsibility to educate parents and children.”
For more cybersafety resources and for the schedule of Cybersafe Philly summits, visit www.cybersafephilly.com. For more information about the Megan Meier Foundation, visit www.meganmeierfoundation.org.
- Return to Paging Mode
Thanks to the way teenagers rely on the Internet for their socializing, “Dear Diary” has turned into “Dear Everyone.”
As a byproduct, teens now use computers, cell phones, BlackBerrys and other technology to cyberbully without considering the moral consequences of their actions.
That was the main point of clinical psychologist Emily D. Moore’s Wednesday-night presentation, “Cyberbullying in the Facebook Age,” at Santa Fe Preparatory School. Though the event was open to the public, only about 20 people — presumably parents — attended.
Cyberbullying — in which perpetrators use technology to harass, threaten, humiliate or even “out” someone — has been a common topic in the media in the past six months “because of all the deaths,” Moore said.
Last September, Tyler Clementi, a New Jersey college student, jumped of the George Washington Bridge after his roommate allegedly posted a video of Clementi having sex on the Internet. In 2005, Jeffrey Johnston hanged himself after being continually harangued online for being gay, even though he wasn’t (his tormentor was, Moore said). Jessica Logan committed suicide in the summer of 2008 after her ex-boyfriend texted photos of her nude to fellow students.
In the past, a victim could conceivably escape bullying by transferring to another school, Moore noted. That’s not possible today.
“The Internet is everywhere,” Moore said.
Often teens engage in cyberbullying in retaliation for a slight, or out of boredom. Some are simply power-hungry, like the old-fashioned schoolyard bully.
The fact that the victim is invisible, and that many computer users believe the Internet ensures them anonymity, makes the offense even easier to commit, because teens often see real life and online life as two very separate worlds.
Proxy bullying can take place when someone hacks into a woman’s private information (name, address, phone number, website), and sends out a mass e-mail missive to potential predators, saying the victim is a good-time girl waiting for a call.
In other cases, the situation can become like America’s Funniest Home Videos, only without the participant’s permission. Teens videotape one another in embarrassing situations and then text (or sext, if the images are provocative) those images to friends.
Still, children may be wary of telling their folks they are being cyberbullied, Moore stressed — particularly if they feel that Mom and Dad will pull the plug on computer privileges.
That tactic won’t work well, Moore said — “It’d be like taking away the keys to the car and saying to your kid, ‘You’re never going to drive.’ ”
However, parents can draw up an Internet-use agreement with their children. This should be done early on, Moore said, with kids understanding they can only use the computer for so many hours and for certain purposes, and with Mom promising she won’t overreact if her daughter opens up about being bullied or about inappropriate usage of the computer.
Parents need to build and maintain open communication and a relationship of trust with their children on this issue, Moore said. Parents should emphasize the need for teens to take moral responsibility for their actions as well.
Moore said teens are always going to outmaneuver their parents when it comes to using technology. Still, parents possess influential resources.
“Remind them that you will be part of their life forever, and ask for their respect and love and trust on that level,” she said. Also, remind children, “I’m going to be Googling you regularly until you are 18.”
Other practical tips for dealing with cyberbullying: Save and print out the offending documents for evidence (and do not respond via e-mail as the bully can use that evidence against you), and draw your child into the conversation about how to proceed. Don’t confront the bully’s parents without gaining your offspring’s cooperation, for instance.
And if the incident involves the school, parents have the right to demand accountability from principals, head learners and directors.
Jim Leonard, head of school for Santa Fe Prep, said he knows of fewer than 10 incidents of cyberbullying involving the school in the past five years. In each incident, school officials intervened, and there has not been one incident of repeat behavior, he said.
Contact Robert Nott at 986-3021 or firstname.lastname@example.org.