Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Future of Bullying

Last year, Megan Meier, a 13 year old girl from Missouri hanged herself.

The story of why she hanged herself is twisted; it's almost bizarre beyond belief. When Megan left her public school, where she was bullied unmercifully, she decided to cut ties with a girl she had been friends with, a neighbor's daughter. Lori Drew, the girl's mother, was upset by Megan's behavior, created a fake MySpace page under the name Josh Evans, winning Megan's trust and then turning around and cyber-bullying Megan. A grown woman did this. An adult. Hiding behind the anonymity, Ms. Drew, who knew that Megan had suffered at school and had a history of depression, launched this attack on Megan, and after one violent online argument, Megan hanged herself in her closet.

Cyber-bullying is on the rise. Unlike regular bullying, which involves personal contact either through physical violence or a nasty glare across the playground, and allows the victim to know her or his attacker(s), cyberbullies can hide behind the mask of the Internet. They lurk behind false MySpace or Facebook pages, send nasty emails from anonymous free email accounts, and pass on vicious text messages from any cellphone.

The story of Megan Meier has stuck with me since I first heard of it. In school, I was bullied like Megan. Middle school was seriously traumatic; I had one friend who stole from me, and another who would switch alliances randomly and mock me with others when it was convenient. Everything about me made me vulnerable; my clothes, my hair, my walk, my lack of athleticism, my love of reading, my lack of interest in popular culture. I withdrew from everything and failed 3rd quarter science and racked up Ds in Algebra and Social Studies in eighth grade. This nearly jeopardized my admission to the school where I went for high school--even though I aced the entrance exam.

When I left for my high school in another town, I, like Megan, stopped talking to the kids I'd gone to school with before. I didn't want to be reminded of the awful way they had treated me, even my so-called friends. I wasn't the most popular person in high school, but I did have a few very good friends, and I excelled at my academics and had a wonderful relationship with my teachers.

From all reports, when Megan changed schools, she became much happier. She was making friends, joined the volleyball team and lost some weight. And yet, she wasn't outside the reach of her tormentor.

One of the only ways I made it through the day in middle school, was the comfort of knowing that at 3:00 I could go home. I could watch tv or read a book, play with my toys, anything I wanted--out of range of the people that were so awful to me. But that was before everyone had a computer and the Internet was a social tool. The idea of cyberbullies is horrifying to me, because it means that there's no safe haven from the bullying. You can go home and be writing an email to a friend and suddenly your inbox is full of vituperative slander. You can be walking home and text messages flash on your cellphone. And you can't just shut the computer off; it's where you do your homework, it's an indispensable tool today.

There's no good solution to the problem, except vigilance. Psychological bullying is just as damaging as a fist to the face. Physical wounds can heal, but words echo in the memory forever.

2 responses:

Vanessa said...

It angers me that the mother has not been charged in connection with Megan's death. I cannot believe that.

I know my fifteen-year-old cousin has been the victim of Myspace bullying. A lot of schools here are trying to crack down on students' myspace or facebook pages to stop this.

Milena said...

Ugh, that is absolutely horrifying and I had no idea things like that happened.
Kate - your experience resonates with my own in grade school and high school. I often think about homeschooling my kids - people think I'm nuts when I say that. Images of kids wearing poorly sewn homemade clothes, never making friends or learning basic social graces comes to their minds. This can be remedied by mentioning intramural sports, community arts programs, sharing the schooling workload and location with other parents, making sure kids comply with (or exceed) state required standards and exams.
I digress. I suppose I offer this as an alternative to the kind of school and social atmospheres available, and which I experienced (both public and private). Both had their demons. Don't know the answer.

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