Parents need to monitor their kids' Facebook and MySpace pages, even though teens will keep secrets from them no matter what.
That's the advice that Tina Meier offered 270 supporters as she accepted TEEN LINE's 2009 Humanitarian Award at a luncheon Wednesday in Beverly Hills.
Meier's 13-year-old daughter, Megan, hanged herself in 2006 after Lori Drew, Tina's neighbor in suburban Dardenne Prairie, Missouri, created the fake MySpace identity of a cute 16-year-old boy who flirted with Megan and then harassed and dumped her. Drew is scheduled for sentencing May 18 after her 2008 conviction on three misdemeanors in the nation's first cyber-bullying trial.
Meier tells PEOPLE she's been traveling the country "nonstop" since the verdict, doing anti-cyberbullying talks and training. However, the federal-court convictions — and a spike in interest in cyber-bullying prevention by schools, lawmakers and law enforcement agencies — have made the work less stressful and has also given her hope that her message is getting through.
"After I'd go out and speak before [the trial], I would be emotionally drained and cry for two hours, but now I've grown stronger," she says. "The pain of losing Megan will never go away, but it has lessened with the knowledge that I can help another child, another family."
Becoming an activist
At lunch, Meier spoke of becoming a cyber-bullying activist and creating the Megan Meier Foundation — saying, too, that bullying is as pervasive as ever because kids do it in the schoolyard, on the Internet and on their cell phones.
"We are having an unbelievable number of kids coming into school counseling offices dealing with these issues," says Meier, who suggests parents become more tech savvy, create their own MySpace and Facebook pages, and monitor as much as possible their kids' online escapades.
She also suggests parents Google their children's names to see what others may be saying about them.
But monitoring the Internet and talking openly with their teens will only take parents so far into their teen's high-pressure world, Meier warns.
"Even the most open child doesn't talk to us about everything," says Meier, who suggests that schools — as well as social networking sites like MySpace — do more to make kids aware of peer counseling services like Teen Line, which is staffed by trained teen volunteers out of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Meier suggests that schools place posters advertising such services "in every boys' and every girls' bathroom across the country," that parents advise their kids about the services, and that MySpace advertise them on its site.
MySpace officials say they've taken huge steps to promote responsible behavior on their site, and that they've saved several lives by working with a suicide prevention hotline and with police when members have posted remarks suggesting suicidal thoughts.