Parents need to really listen when their children talk to them -- that was the message of Tina Meier's presentation to community members gathered this week at Marissa Junior-Senior High School.
"One of the biggest pieces that we miss hearing is what the kids are saying," Meier said. "Sometimes we are not even listening to what they are saying."
Meier's daughter Megan took her own life in 2006, when she was 13 years old, after experiencing cyber-bullying via the social media site MySpace.
"It was a tragedy that happened and from that I had to do something," said Meier, who lives in O'Fallon, Mo., with her 18-year-old daughter Allison.
She started the Megan Meier Foundation in December 2007. The foundation spreads awareness about bullying and cyber-bullying.
"Sometimes these topics aren't easy to talk about as parents," Meier said. "If there's one person we can help that means everything."
A handful of parents with children in tow listened intently as Meier told her story and shared what she's learned over the last eight years.
Parent Cara Phelps of Marissa brought her sixth-grade daughter to hear Meier speak. "I wanted my daughter to come so she can recognize if she is being bullied," Phelps said.
She described the presentation as informative. "It opened up a conversation I can have with her," Phelps said.
Parent Crystal Cathcart said it was "very brave" of Meier to come to Marissa and share her story.
Meier told the crowd about Megan, who she described as a "normal, everyday kid. She was the type of kid that struggled with self-esteem," Meier said.
Meier did everything she could to support her daughter including taking her to therapy. It was in the third grade, Meier said, that Megan first mentioned taking her own life.
"I panicked as a mom," Meier admitted. "I wasn't prepared for this."
Megan was diagnosed with depression and attention deficit disorder.
"It was really hard," Meier recalled. "Kids who have depression, they do struggle differently."
Meier eventually moved Megan to a private school her eighth-grade year, and she was doing better until she befriended a boy on MySpace who showed interest in her. Megan liked him back, Meier said, and even changed her status to dating this boy.
However, one day the boy started sending Megan hateful messages, and later that same night, Megan took her own life in her bedroom while her parents were home.
"There's absolutely no worse pain in the world," Meier said. "Megan's option was a permanent decision and you can't change it."
It turned out the boy who tormented Megan wasn't real. It was a fake social media page created to bully Megan.
Meier encouraged parents and other adults to "really listen to what they (children) are actually saying. They feel helpless a lot of the time," she said. "We forget with kids that we need to validate their feelings. If we do that, sometimes they are able to self-soothe."
She suggested parents talk to their children "in real terms instead of sugar-coating everything."
Meier also said it's important for parents to monitor their children closely and notice small changes in behavior, bruises or scratches, missing belongings or a sudden drop in grades -- all of which could indicate they are being bullied.
"If you start seeing any changes, please look into it," Meier said.
Meier said 67 percent of children do not tell adults about bullying or cyber bullying, because it can make it worse.
Bullying affects both boys and girls.
"Boys are four times more likely to take their own life," Meier said. "Girls are more likely to attempt it."
Marissa parent Jen Demsar said she learned a lot from Meier. "It opened our eyes," Demsar said. "We need to be more realistic with our children."
For more information about the Megan Meier Foundation, visit http://www.meganmeierfoundation.org.