Bullying isn’t an easy topic to discuss with teenagers, especially in a world where insults can be texted, tweeted, instant messaged or posted online for the world to see in the blink of an eye — without the thought of repercussions.
But bullying is a topic Tina Meier is passionate about. Meier shared her story with Student Council members at the Missouri Association of Student Councils State Convention Friday, March 15.
Meier lost her daughter Megan to suicide in 2006. Megan was bullied for years in school and then by an adult who posed as a boy and tormented her through MySpace. Megan and the adult’s own teenage daughter had a falling out.
Meier she said her goal was not to fill the room with sadness, but teens could be seen wiping tears from their eyes during her speech.
“You guys are the ones who make the change in the world,” she told the gymnasium packed full of students.
“My hope is to truly empower you guys to think outside of the box,” she said. “Do not be molded into what everybody else thinks you should be, or where everybody else is going.”
Much of the speech focused on Megan’s life — her likes, dislikes, hobbies and struggles with fitting in.
From a young age, Meier said her daughter was concerned about her looks and fixated on what other people thought of her.
“She was an amazing kid, but she worried about herself,” she said.
The first time Megan said she wanted to kill herself she was in third grade, Meier said.
“She thought she was the ugliest, grossest, fattest girl by far,” she said.
Panicking, Meier brought her to a psychiatrist who diagnosed her with depression and attention deficit disorder (ADD). She was given medication to help her and seemed to be doing well.
Mental illness, though very serious, often has a stigma attached to it. Meier added that she, too, has depression and ADD, but doesn’t let it define her.
When Meier found out that her daughter was being bullied she wanted to step in, but Megan begged her not to. It would just make things worse, she said.
Megan begged to be homeschooled or to switch schools and in eighth grade, her parents made the decision to switch her to a small, private school.
Three weeks into eighth grade, Megan asked for a MySpace account. Other kids had accounts and Meier agreed to let her have one.
Meier said she had a program that monitored every online message. She also had the password to the account and had to log her daughter in.
When she asked to be friends with a boy she didn’t know, Meier said she was hesitant, but decided to let her. The relationship flourished as he was saying nice things to her.
Just a few weeks into the online friendship, the boy, Josh Evans, told Megan he had heard she was a bad friend and he didn’t want to be friends with her.
Trying to understand, Megan asked what he was talking about, but insults only continued.
Tina Meier usually never let Megan on the computer while she wasn’t home, but one day she was in a hurry and had to take her other daughter to the orthodontist. She left and Megan stayed online. She called Megan two times from the orthodontist. Both times, Megan was crying hysterically about the messages Josh had left.
Until the final message: “Everybody in O’Fallon knows how you are. You are a bad person and everybody hates you. Have a shitty rest of your life. The world would be a better place without you.”
Tina Meier came home from the orthodontist upset with Megan for not getting off the computer like she was supposed to.
“You’re supposed to be my mom. You’re supposed to be on my side,” Megan told her mother before running to her room.
A few minutes later, Tina said she had a bad feeling and rushed to Megan’s room, where she found her daughter hanging from a belt in her closet.
Her father ripped out the closet organizer to free her while Tina Meier called an ambulance.
Megan Meier passed away the following day, just three weeks shy of her 14th birthday.
Meier challenged students to step in when they see someone physically or verbally abusing another person.
“You have the right to step in. I don’t care if it’s another adult. I don’t care if it’s the president of the United States,” she said. “I don’t care if it’s your parents or your teachers. We all have a right to step in.”
Tina also shared her personal life story.
At a young age, her father and younger brother were diagnosed with unrelated brain tumors within a short period of time.
During her’s father’s surgery, the right side of his body was paralyzed and his speech was affected.
Her father passed away when she was 15 years old.
“I turned into the most angry person I could have possibly felt, besides when everything happened with Megan. I was angry at the world. I was mad . . . I was rude. I was rotten. I was mean. I was so frustrated and aggravated that I took it out on everyone else around me. In the world today, I would be considered the biggest bully,” she said.
“I was a kid who was in so much pain. I didn’t know what in the heck to do. My family was destroyed so they weren’t much of a help either. They were trying to just get up and breathe and walk.”
Meier said she now realizes she was destroying those people, just as people had done to her own daughter.
“Those things that you think are funny or just a joke can be truly devastating to them,” she said.
After her daughter’s suicide, Meier founded the Megan Meier Foundation, which works to raise awareness of bullying and cyber-bullying.
She worked with Sen. Scott Rupp and Gov. Matt Blunt’s Internet Task Force for the state of Missouri to help pass Senate Bill 818 in Missouri, which targets cyberbullying.
She has appeared nationally and internationally on television stations, newsmagazines and syndicated talk shows.
Tina Meier’s accomplishments include receiving the 2009 Humanitarian Award from Teen Line in Los Angeles, Calif.; being one out of 150 people asked to attend the 2011 White House Anti-Bullying Conference; joining Verizon’s 2011 Cyber Safe Philly Summit Series in the Philadelphia and Delaware region; being part of the strategic alliance with NASCAR Nationwide Series; and consulting on the ABC Family movie “Cyberbully” which aired in July 2011.
For more information, visit meganmeierfoundation.org.