By MAGGIE MENDERSKI
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
LEWISTOWN, Mo. -- Tina Meier urged a group of Lewis County students on Wednesday to ignore the advice that contributed to her daughter's suicide.
She had told her daughter, Megan Meier, to stop listening to the bullies and they'd go away. She'd offered to intervene at her school in St. Charles County, Mo.
Seven years after her daughter's death, she realizes those cliches never would have saved her daughter. So on Wednesday night at Highland High School, Meier campaigned for schools to encourage students to peacefully interfere with conflicts.
"Peer relationships and peer acceptance are the main thing for students," Meier said. "We must start empowering them to have a voice."
On Wednesday night, Tina Meier relieved the events leading up to her daughter's death, which received national attention, for a crowd of more than 200 students, parents and school staff.
The 13-year-old girl had corresponded with a boy named Josh Evans during fall 2006. Josh and other teens began harassing Megan on MySpace. Megan later was found hanging from a belt in her closet after he sent a message saying the world would be a better place without her.
After Megan's death, her parents learned that the boy never existed. A neighbor's mother had created the fake profile to learn if Megan had gossiped about her daughter. The joke then turned deadly.
Meier began the Megan Meier Foundation to initiate change in the way suicide and bullying are handled. She travels throughout the country speaking about the need for parents to monitor social network and cellphone use among children. She explains the signs of suicide and reminds parents and teachers to have empathy for the experience of teenage drama. Meier cautions parents about sexting, sexual predators and applications designed to conceal conversations from parents.
"Cyberbullying is an extension of bullying," Meier said. "But with cyberbullying, it doesn't stop. It's 24 hours a day."
Meier asks her audiences to take threats of suicide seriously. Most of all, she asks schools and parents to empower students to intervene when peers torment other students. She said most individuals who commit suicide don't want to die. They just want the pain of their situation to stop.
"That one person can start a ripple effect with another person," Meier said.
Sarah Adam, a school counselor for Lewis County R-1, hoped Meier's message would reinforce the assertive communication methods she teaches her students. She said it's difficult for bullying victims to stand up for themselves because they often fear further retaliation. Students agreed by a show of hands that they'd much rather have a peer defend them than ignore the situation or seek help from an adult.
"That's part of the battle," Adam said. "But with constant support, I think we can get the message out."
Chaselyn Beuhl, 13, thought the presentation would have a positive effect on the school, but admitted that it's difficult to know what to do in bullying situations. Chaselyn hopes she has the courage to step in if she sees someone picking on a classmate.
"I wish that they were nicer, and that they didn't bully," Beuhl said. "It would be a much better place if they didn't bully."