A Firsthand Lesson in Cyberbullying
Brady Middle School eighth grader Dylan Clawson knew cyber-bullying existed. He just never realized how devastating the consequences could be. That was until he heard Tina Meier talk about what transpired when her 13-year-old daughter Megan became the victim of it.
“It touched a lot of kids here,” said Clawson. “I know it touched me."
So much so, that Clawson was moved to donate the few dollars he had in his pocket to Tina Meier and the Megan Meier Foundation when she spoke to the Brady students recently.
“Her message is so important – to keep trying and don’t give up,” he said. “Be a fighter.”
Meier has taken that message across the United States and brought it to the Orange Schools community and students as staff members embark on a mission to curtail the bullying that exists in today’s society. Meier lost her own daughter to suicide after a neighbor pretended to be an on-line admirer of her daughter’s as a hoax.
“I don’t hold anything back,” Meier said in explaining why the students are moved by her daughter’s story. “Megan was their age…when someone comes in and speaks to them like this, there’s that reality piece of it and it breaks that barrier down. As a victim, too, I am able to help those kids (who are also victims) now reach out for help and realize there's not a stigma against it, and there's nothing to be ashamed about."
“Her story could relate to a lot of people who probably have that same problem with cyberbullying,” noted junior Charlie Reuven. “I think it really helps people see what they’re doing…such a small comment can really affect and hurt someone.”
The mission of the Megan Meier Foundation is ‘to bring awareness, education, and promote positive change to children, parents, and educators in response to ongoing bullying and cyberbullying in our children’s daily environment.’ Tina Meier spoke to community members the night before assemblies at each of the schools.
“The most simplistic thing is getting them to think about the words they use to other people, how it can affect them and thinking about the things they send through social networking sites,” Meier said. “Those things that we do, those small words that we think are just joking around can truly impact another’s life.”
“Just the fact that she went through such a tragedy due to cyberbullying really gets the message across that it shouldn’t be done,” said junior Julia Papesch. “And I think that with the technology we have nowadays it’s especially important to know.”
“I have seen this type of bullying but I never really thought people could be that affected by it and want to take their own lives from something that seemed like not a big deal,” said classmate Tiara Ryan. “People really can’t ignore it.”
Meier was brought to Orange by a cross-section of staff members including Dominic Favazzo, Lidia Frabotta, Jen Gold, Jennette Kane, Betsey Lee, Ernie Ley, and Beth Wilson-Fish through sponsorships by the OHS and Elementary PTAs, Orange Schools Foundation, the Orange Teachers Association, and Your Teen magazine.
“Tina was brought in to paint a real, true picture of how sensitive teens are and what the repercussions could be," said physical education teacher Jen Gold.“Tina provided a face and a story to the worst possible consequences of cyberbullying,” added Jennette Kane, one of the Orange Schools technology integration coordinators.
Committee members sported buttons asking “Is it kind…Is it true…Is it necessary?” suggesting that everyone consider how often these questions are asked before one speaks or acts.
“If the answer is ‘no’ then they should probably refrain from speaking, typing, or texting,” noted Kane.
“We have had presentations before, but nothing as powerful as this because this is real life experience,” said ninth grader Eva Rudow. “Megan Meier was the same age as we are now and it’s kind of scary and surreal about how real the problem is.”
Classmate Chris Barsoum agreed.
“I think it was really moving. It made me think about how I’m going to talk to people before I do and how people should talk to each other with more respect,” he said.
The staff members’ goal was not to disparage the use of technology but to help students learn to protect themselves. That was a large part of Meier’s presentation.
“They should use technology because it’s wonderful and we can get so many resources from it,” Meier said. “But just protect yourself when you’re using it. Don’t list your location; don’t give your passwords out; think about the photographs before you post them. One posting that they think is not a big deal can truly impact and change their whole life.”
As a follow-up to the presentation, staff members have created a “One Book, One Community” forum that will further the discussion about bullying. The PTA provided copies of the book “We Want You to Know” by Deborah Ellis that recounts story after story about children’s firsthand experiences as victims of bullying. The books are available to any member of the community.
“The goal for One Book, One Community is to bring a community awareness and acceptance to the issue of cyberbullying among our students and ultimately change the way our students act and behave towards and with one another," said Kane.
Those involved in the community-wide book study will reconvene in the Orange High School Media Center at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, October 24th. The discussion will focus on the prevalence of and many facets to bullying in today’s society…and what can be done about it.
“The most important message is that bullying happens everywhere including our little community, and we cannot deny it,” said committee member Jen Gold. “We as the adults in our children’s lives have to be capable of checking their on-line activity. If we don’t, they can keep us in the dark and hide everything from us…I myself am not the most ‘tech-savvy' person and could use some help in learning how to utilize all these sites properly."
Parents and community members who have not yet registered for the book club may still do so by contacting one of the committee members or by clicking on the link here. Staff and students alike know that the follow-up to presentations like Meier’s are not only helpful, but crucial.
“It’s good to review what you learned,” noted sixth grader Leanna Effron. “Sometimes it just kicks into you and gets you thinking."
“I think it will make a difference because now kids know how to deal with it – they know to tell adults and that adults can help them with the cyberbullying,” said sixth grader Hannah Shuffer. “It changed me. It definitely taught me to be more careful about what I do on-line.
To view the slideshow from the assemblies, click on the photo below.