oday marks the seventh anniversary of the death of 13-year-old Megan Meier, a St. Charles County girl who killed herself after being the victim of online bullying.
This month, cyberbullying is again in the news for a tragic reason. A 12-year-old girl from Florida, Rebecca Sedwick, committed suicide in response to cruel messages she received on her phone.
"What breaks my heart, is not only just what that child [Rebecca Sedwick] was going through...but now also her family...and the entire ripple effect," said Tina Meier, mother of Megan.
After her daughter's death, Tina Meier started the Megan Meier Foundation to educate schools, parents, children and law enforcement about the consequences of bullying and cyberbullying. Her foundation also advocated for legal protection against cyberbullying.
In 2008, the Internet stalking bill, Senate Bill 818, became Missouri law, due in part to Meier's efforts. But, she says, there is still work to be done.
"When we hear and talk about this topic, we want to see big things change," said Meier. "It takes time. We're talking about human behavior. We're talking about the way we use electronics. The way that we interface."
"I look at small steps as a positive because one life to me is worth it," added Meier.
Part of the problem with cyberbullying, said Meier, is that it is difficult to escape. Because it is online and on their phones it follows them wherever they go. But the answer isn't as simple as blocking a child's access.
"When you shut that down for them, that is shutting down their world," said Meier.
It also can be difficult to identify the perpetrators, or even for parents and educators to be aware that it is happening.
Louise Losos, former principal of Clayton High School, knows that frustration personally. In an effort to keep track of cyberbullying at her school, she created a fake Facebook account.
"I probably didn't go about it the right way, and in the end I lost my job as a result of it," said Losos. "But the bigger issue is how do we keep our kids safe?"
Losos is now the director of curriculum at Confluence Academy. Her main advice for parents is that if their child is on a social media site or smart phone app, then they need to be on it as well.
For Tina Meier, the big issue ahead is for cyberbullying laws to be used for prosecution. The students she has talked with tell her that nothing happens when they post things, so they don't see why they should stop.
For more information about cyberbullying, call the Megan Meier Foundation at 636-777-7823 or visit the Megan Meier Foundation website.