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Mother of cyberbullying victim speaks at Central High library

Friday, January 14, 2011

Kristin Eberts photo, SEMO News Service - Tina Meier, whose teenage daughter committed suicide following an Internet hoax, speaks during a cyberbullying forum Wednesday at Cape Girardeau Central High School.
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo, - Tina Meier hears a common refrain when it comes to the dangers of the Internet: "It's not going to happen to me."

She knows it can happen to anyone.

The O'Fallon, Mo., woman is the mother of Megan Meier, the victim in perhaps the most high-profile case of cyberbullying.

"Megan was a real person, a real girl with real dreams," Meier told a gathering of about 20 people Wednesday evening at the Cape Girardeau Central High School library. The cyberbullying forum, "How to Protect Our Children," was aimed at parents and community members. Earlier in the day she addressed students at Cape Girardeau Central Middle School, and other presentations are planned in the district today.

Megan was 13 when she hanged herself in her bedroom following an Internet hoax. In the case, a neighbor, Lori Drew, her daughter and a friend were linked to a MySpace page concocted to appear to be that of a teenage boy. "Josh" initially flirted with Megan but then made hurtful comments shortly before she committed suicide.

A jury in California, where MySpace has its servers, found Drew guilty of three federal misdemeanors, but a judge overturned the verdicts and acquitted her.

Tina Meier, creator of the Megan Meier Foundation, began her presentation with a video clip of her family's story that aired on daytime TV's "The Dr. Phil Show." Meier and her ex-husband recount the day they discovered Megan and the events that led up to her suicide. The segment includes her frantic 911 call.

"My daughter just hung herself," she screams.

Meier said it's not her intention to scare children, parents or anyone else about the violent consequences of cyberbullying; the idea is to take action at home, in school and in the community.

She cited several cases of teens and young adults who took their own lives after being victims of online harassment. Many more incidents don't end violently, she said, but do tremendous damage to the well-being of children. She cited the foundation's work with a teenage girl who was the subject of vicious online rumors claiming she had AIDS and that she was sleeping with people to infect them. The girl was placed in in-school suspension for her own protection. Her parents even moved her to a nearby community, but the abuse continued. The teen twice attempted suicide.

Unlike physical taunting or abuse where victims can go home and away from the harassment, cyberbullying is always on, Meier said.

"These kids don't have room to breathe," Meier said.

As the technology rapidly evolves, so too do the dangers for children. And many of the nefarious things online are catching parents off guard. There's sexting, with a growing number of teens sending nude or partially nude photos of themselves to others. There's "sextortion,' where such photos are used against teens, often to force them to send more photos to extorting parties.

While she said there are no foolproof plans, Meier offered parents tips to protect children online.

* Communicate: "Talk to them about what they're doing, what they're on, who their friends are," Meier said.

* Know the technology: "When you give this stuff to kids you have to know how it works," she said. "We have to understand the language they're talking today."

* Set limits upfront: Meier said she knows her 14-year-old daughter's password to her Facebook account and cell phone, and she monitors her use. At night, she said, the phone stays out of the teen's bedroom.

"It's talking to them and letting them know what you expect."

* Take the computer out of the room: "We're giving them the entire world in their bedroom."

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