Crusaders speak out against bullying

Tina Meier takes a stand against bullying - Illustration by Marc Parker

Prattville – The National Crime Prevention Council’s definition of cyber-bullying is “when the Internet, cell phones or other devices are used to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person.”

The term is usually used in occurrences involving the targeting of children, preteens, or teens by their peers, using the Internet, Interactive and digital technologies, or mobile phones.

There are instances, however, when adults are involved as in the case of Megan Meier, s Missouri teenager who committed suicide three weeks before her 14th birthday, and died on October 17, 2006. She had been exchanging messages with someone whom she thought to be a 16-year-old boy named Josh Evans on the social networking website MySpace. It was only after Meier’s death that her parents found out it had been an adult using a fabricated account in the name of “Josh Evans.”

Megan’s mother, Tina Meier, travels throughout the United States as a keynote speaker sharing her story and giving presentations on bullying and cyber-bullying to schools, conferences, parent/educator programs, or special events.

As a victim of childhood bullying herself and based on her own struggles through those challenges, Miss 2010 Fountain City Jessica Brookshire launched a platform called K.A.R.M.A. – Kids Against Ridicule, Meanness, and Aggression, and uses her role as a community leader to promote her message. Currently Alabama is one of the twelve states that does not have an anti-bullying law and Brookshire has worked tirelessly to get that changed.

On March 10, the City of Prattville and First United Methodist Church will present an educational experience for families. Meier will join Brookshire for a Town Hall meeting in the church sanctuary to discuss bullying, specifically through social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter.

In September of 2006, ABC News reported on the results of a survey that was given to 1,500 students between grades 4-8: 42% of kids have been bullied while online and one in four have had it happen more than once; 35% have been threatened online; 21% have received mean or threatening emails or other messages; 58% admit someone has said mean or hurtful things to them online; 58% have not told their parents or an adult about something mean or hurtful that happened to them online.

Research has shown a number of serious consequences as a result of cyber-bullying victimization – from lower self-esteem and isolation to recurring thoughts of suicide. Girls are twice as likely as boys to be victims and perpetrators and cyber-bullying is most prevalent among 15 and 16 year olds.

Brookshire will speak about her K.A.R.M.A. platform at the meeting and the inner struggles she continues to live with today because of being bullied as a child. Our Prattville recently spoke with Brookshire about her life experiences that led her to be an advocate of bullying.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Why do you see a need for a Town Hall meeting about bullying?

Jessica Brookshire: Town Hall meetings have typically symbolized the grassroots movements of America. Bullying is too common among school-aged children today, and as a victim I know the loneliness that comes from bullying. I hope to strengthen my grassroots movement with the support of such a meeting. The power of the people is needed to encourage legislative reform.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): What do you hope to accomplish in the meeting?

Jessica Brookshire: I want young victims of teasing to be able to look around this meeting and see that they are not alone. I want to provide a public forum for the people of Prattville and surrounding areas to come together to stop bullying for our children. I hope that by sharing her story, Tina Meier can reach out to the parents of school-aged children and show them how they can help their child to combat ridicule. Ultimately, I hope that we can rally together to make a change in Alabama’s laws and more importantly, in our children’s lives.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): In your opinion, is bullying worse now with social networking (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace) than actual physical contact on the school’s playground?

Jessica Brookshire: I cannot say whether it is necessarily worse, but I can say that it is more prevalent. The traditional forms of schoolyard bullying were easily escaped when the bell rang at the end of the day. Now when children leave school, they sign onto social networking sites only to face more bullying.

The Internet can also generate the “faceless” bully. Anonymous users can torment victims online with little or no consequences. It is my hope that this campaign to end bullying will result in cyber-bullying laws as well.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): What would you say to kids who are victims of cyber-bullying? How would you tell them to handle it?

Jessica Brookshire: Cyber-bullying has become the most common form of bullying because aggressors can now hide behind a screen and false names. The best advice that I can give is to walk away. There is nothing positive to come of trying to reason with a bully. Instead, I believe that children should protect themselves by telling a parent or teacher immediately.

Parents can also play a pivotal role in this situation. They should first monitor all Internet activity of their children. Also, parents need to speak with their child’s teachers, school administrators and counselors in order to make their child’s safety a priority. Perhaps the most important thing a parent can do is to have open communication with their child to address the problem, confront the situation and resolve it.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Do you believe that cyber-bullying can actually lead to suicide? Have you previously met Tina Meier?

Jessica Brookshire: I absolutely believe that any kind of bullying can lead to suicide. The emotional damage resulting from such torment is often too much for young people to bear. Unfortunately there have been numerous cases of suicide as a result of bullying, and this has led to the adoption of a new term, “bullycide” which is commonly used in cases such as Megan’s.

I have not previously met Ms. Meier in person, but we have spoken numerous times over the phone. She is such a warm and caring person, she has opened her life to help me achieve the goals I have set forth with this platform. Her devotion to this cause and perseverance in the face of adversity make her a true role model.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): What, from your own experiences, led you to form the K.A.R.M.A. platform?

Jessica Brookshire: As a victim of bullying, I spent most of my childhood seeking ways to avoid the ridicule I faced at school. I made friends with the right crowd and wore the right clothes, but for some reason I was still a target of teasing. I begged my mom to let me skip school but the pain I felt did not go away. Today’s children need to realize that once all is said and done, they will only have each other to depend upon. I want to reinforce breaking down your own future.

The idea of K.A.R.M.A. is that what goes around comes around. I believe that what you put out into the universe is what you will receive. By encouraging students to just be kind and to learn tolerance and acceptance for everyone, I believe that we can create a new generation of children who care for each other and learn from each other.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): How did having these experiences with bullying change you as a person?

Jessica Brookshire: I refer to myself now as a victor, not a victim, of bullying. I believe that the emotional pain I had to endure made me who I am today. I am very confident and proud of who I am, no matter how different or imperfect. I am so thankful for the strength I gained from my struggle as it has given me the power to give back. I am sharing my story in the hope that I can stop just one child from suffering.

The Town Hall meeting begins at 6:30 PM on Wednesday, March 10. It is free and open to the public.

Article by Melissa Parker

© 2010 Our Prattville. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the express written consent of the publisher.