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Blog ArchivesDecember 2010
Tina's Blog ~ Megan Meier Foundation
October 10, 2011- Combating Cyber-bullying: A Societal Mission
By Reserve Deputy Keith E Thome Jr
Macomb County Sheriff’s Office Macomb, Michigan
When I first decided to write this article, I began as I do most of my professional articles. I was ready to present “the numbers.” Detailing how many cyber crime cases The Macomb Area Computer Enforcement (M.A.C.E.) opened last year, how many arrests were made and the number of search warrants served. But writing this particular article was an opportunity to do a little more. An opportunity to not only inform you of what the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office as a unit and law enforcement community are doing to combat cyber-bullying, but also why we do it and why everyone else should be taking an active role in preventing it as well.
When I first heard Megan’s story, it is hard to express how much sadness I felt. How could a girl with so much potential and future take her own life because of “some rude electronic posts?” Knowing Megan’s story now it feels a little cold writing that last sentence but I did so for a reason. You see, that is how many that are uneducated or unaware of cyber-bullying probably think. How can anyone take something written online that serious? It is only online, how can it affect the “real world.”
Society has entered a new arena of social interaction. Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, they all have changed the paradigm of how we interact, perceive and even treat others. How many times have you heard of a person being “de-friended” because of a real life conflict? Or carrying over a real life conflict and posting snide remarks online? We are beginning to blend our online worlds with our living breathing world. This can be a positive advance in humanity but it also has the potential to expose a darker, more sinister side. A side that has always existed but now is much easier to engage.
Cyber-bullying simplifies bullying to a level we have never experienced before. Bullies don’t have to physically interact with the person they are bullying. They don’t have to hear their victim’s voice when they say hurtful things or see the hurt in the victim’s eyes because of those words. Because of this, many that would not otherwise bully feel comfortable doing so online or via a text message because to them, it is a victimless crime. Just using the words “bully”, “comfortable”, and “victimless” in the same sentence should convey to you, the reader, the societal tragedy that this indicates.
How then, as a society, do we confront this problem and allow the benefits of this new social interaction to still flourish? In my business and that of my colleagues, the business of enforcing law is proportional to the business of preventing crime. The more crime prevention you can accomplish, the number of offenses committed surrounding that crime drop. Combating cyber-bullying is no different in that respect. So in a sense, cyber-bullying in its nature does in fact have vulnerability. The manner in which cyber-bullying operates, in an obscure and “yeah, I’ve heard of it but don’t know much about it” nature, can also be its vulnerability. A vulnerability that we as a society must exploit to save the lives of young men and women like Megan through awareness training and the courage to stop it at the citizen level.
We are all charged with the responsibility of stopping cyber-bullying as members of our society. It is not just the person on our left, or the person on our rights responsibility to identify when potential cyber-bullying is occurring and assist the person on the other end of their attacks. We are all charged with this mission. When you overhear or see somebody engaged in cyber-bullying it is your duty as a citizen in society to speak up and inform that person or group of individuals that it is not acceptable for them to be doing so. It isn’t “cool” or “fly” to attack other people no matter what the motive is. This collective disdain is how most unwanted behaviors are curbed by a society. I find it amazing that people will eagerly speak up when they witness somebody throw garbage on their property or breaking into a vehicle but terrified to stand up to somebody cyber-bullying when it is such a destructive and hurtful act.
To enable members of society to accomplish this, many law enforcement agencies around the United States have begun to offer awareness training in and around their communities. These high impact, information rich presentations aim to educate the audience on how to recognize cyber-bullying, help those who are victims of cyber-bullying and what to do in the event they cross paths with a cyber-bully, or in some cases, a group of cyber-bullies.
Roughly ten years ago, our then Sheriff Mark Hackel created the unit that I now serve in under Sheriff Anthony Wickersham, the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office Macomb Area Computer Enforcement (MACE) Unit. Our unit is currently comprised of four Criminal Investigators, two Forensics Investigators and seven Reserve Deputies that provide awareness and prevention training. This hand picked talent and collective knowledge base surrounding criminal investigation, computer crime, IT, and computer security indicates that Sheriff Wickersham and the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office is serious about combating all forms of cyber crime, especially cyber-bullying. The notion that cyber-bullies can easily conduct their activities because of law enforcement’s ineptness in cyber crime methodologies is becoming a thing of the past.
Serving a community population of roughly 841,000 citizens in 2010, The Macomb County Sheriff’s Office has opened 621 cyber crime cases, arrested 32 individuals charged with various cyber crimes and served 140 search warrants. The number of cases alone should signify how rampant cyber crime has become. In 2010, the unit conducted more than 68 presentations to schools and organizations covering everything from Internet Safety to of course cyber-bullying. Many of those who are train are officials that are then charged to in turn utilize the training we have provided to educate their peers and subordinates, effectively becoming what is known as a “force multiplier.” MACE also offers custom tailored training based on age group including a student base beginning at 3rd grade. These presentations are absolutely free of charge to all attendees and contain up to date information on the latest techniques and avenues cyber-bullies are utilizing to harass and attack their victims. I would encourage everyone reading this to seek out your local law enforcement agency and see if they are providing a service like this for your school, church or organization.
The effects this awareness training has had on our community, as predicted, has been successful in curbing the amount of cyber-bullying cases we have received. Statistics withholding, saving even one person like Megan from suffering at the hands of a cyber-bully would prove the mission a success in my personal opinion. Professionally, I can assure the reader that law enforcement is in fact engaging this new avenue of victimization aggressively. With every passing moment, a cyber-bully is logging on to spread rumors and victimize. That victim could be your son or daughter, brother or sister. I challenge you to be a part of the solution by educating yourself and your peers on how to recognize, identify and stop cyber-bullying so that we don’t lose another wonderful person like Megan.
September 29 - Heather
I love my long training runs, especially on the cool, crisp mornings in the fall. During this hour or two I am able to set aside all the roles I play, daughter, friend, sister, wife, mother, teacher, writer, student, and colleague, to clear my head and focus solely on me. Thoughts are free to meander into my mind without interruptions, and during this time I can plan, wonder, dream, and work out any troubles life has thrown me. Every step I take reminds me how alive I truly am and how grateful I am to be me. It wasn’t until these past couple of years that I realized the power of running and the impact it plays on keeping me both physically and mentally healthy.
Volunteering as a “Girls on the Run St. Louis” coach has allowed me an opportunity to share my passion for running with third and fourth grade girls at my school I teach. Girls on the Run (GOTR) is an experiential learning program for 8 to 12 year old girls that combine training for a 5K running event with life-changing, self-esteem enhancing, uplifting warm-ups and workouts that encourage emotional, social, mental, and physical development (curriculum guide). Now into my third season of this ten week program, I, along with other volunteers, utilize running as a vehicle for learning activities focused around individual topics in three distinct areas: self, teamwork, and community.
A very powerful lesson I taught last week helped girls distinguish between comfortable and uncomfortable emotions. Emphasis was placed on relaying that those uncomfortable emotions such as anger, sorrow, and frustration are not bad or unhealthy and can be dealt with and expressed in healthy ways. We explained how important it is for the girls to talk with someone when they are upset and that these uncomfortable emotions are not bad at all. What matters is that the girls do not hurt on the inside or hurt others by not expressing or handling these emotions well.
After lessons of talking and learning about the basics of cooperation (being a good listener by not interrupting and really working to hear and understand what friends are saying) girls learn how to recognize bullying behaviors and what to do if bullied or if witnessing bullying. Girls don’t realize that the bullying we see in movies, cartoons, or t.v. shows where an older kid is pushing a younger kid around is not the only type of bullying happening every day in our schools. Girls are surprised to discover that name calling, teasing, putting others down, and spreading rumors are examples of emotional bullying. It’s this kind of bullying that can be more hurtful than the physical type. We teach them ways to stay calm, to tell the bully they do not like what is going on, and to tell a trusted adult. We give them suggestions for helping someone who is being bullied and remind them they never want to be bullies themselves.
Before working on our service project, we discuss the importance of communities and ways that we can impact them. This program is not complete without a lesson helping the girls become more aware of the negative ways the media may portray girls. We help them begin to develop the critical thinking skills needed to push aside the negative messages to become kind, strong, healthy, and educated young ladies. Last season our girls received the second place award for their project called “Caring for a Cause” Candy Grams. The girls on the team decided to help a family from their school that was in need. They sent a letter home to all school parents to let them know what the GOTR team had planned for their community service project. For $.25 any student, parent or faculty member could send a “Candy Gram” to anyone in the school. The coaches donated a lollipop to every student in the school because the girls didn’t want anyone to feel left out if he/she didn’t receive one on the day of the event. The girls gave up their recesses to cut, tape, and sort the candy grams before delivering them to each classroom. They collected $191.00 for the family they were helping. At a GOTR practice the girls made a card that said “We Care About You” and included the money. The family was very touched and thankful! We were so proud of how the girls used their talents to make a difference!
Because I truly believe the GOTR program significantly impacts many young girls, and I value the power of running, I recently joined the SoleMates team, the charity running leg of Girls on the Run. While pursuing my own goal of running in the ING New York Marathon this upcoming November, I am raising money to ensure a girl a lifetime of self-respect and healthy living. And as I continue my long training runs in preparation for this race, I can’t help but smile knowing that the many roles I play are what keep me focused, alive, strong, and healthy, ready for anything that comes in my way!
September 29 - Liz
I heard an interesting story on the radio last week about an author who wrote a book along with 70 other authors called Dear Bully – 70 Authors tell their stories-(By Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones). The book is a compilation of letters written to those people who bullied the authors or to the people that the authors themselves bullied. I was very interested, and ironically the next day our school librarian was telling me all about this great book that she just got “Dear Bully”.
Though I haven’t had time since hearing about the book to read the whole thing, I skimmed through and read several of the letters. It was so interesting to hear how “grown-up” people still have such vivid memories of their experience of being bullied. The more interesting part is to see what they have done with those experiences. For some it made them stronger, more creative, and in the end taught them how to be confident without paying attention to negative criticism. Yet for others the memories still made them cry. It was hard to let go and they had problems trusting people. It was very clear to me that the affect of bullying is lifelong.
It made me wonder, what if I took the time write a letter to the people that were mean to me? In 8th grade I was not popular. My mother dressed my like a middle aged woman (I was the oldest, she didn’t know any better), I was taller than every boy in my class, I was clumsy, un-athletic, and a goodie two shoes. I was a good target for jokes. I was never bullied to the point many in the book experienced. I never considered transferring schools, and I was never physically abused. However, I was often excluded, and few memorable times, words or actions did hurt me. Would writing a letter be a healing experience for me? I think that it would be.
On the other hand, what about the times that I remember being mean? I am certainly not perfect, and there is one girl in particular that I wish I could apologize to. If I ever ran into her I would certainly say that I am sorry. Thinking of my actions towards her caused me to consider where my own insecurity came from. Despite my own pain, to know that I hurt another is awful. It is harder for me to heal the guilt that I feel for being mean than it is to heal the wounds of being bullied myself. Getting my words onto paper and outside of my mind is a healing experience.
If you’re a “grown-up” who was bullied or was a bully, perhaps you could take the time to write a letter to someone you hurt or that hurt you. Perhaps you know a young person being bullied that would benefit from reading your letter. It can be a powerful thing to know that someone has felt the same way you do, has experienced the same things you have, and has made it through.
How powerful it can be to take our times of struggle and weakness to help others through in their moment of need. I think “Dear Bully” is a great idea and hope that it inspires others to be honest and open about their experiences of bullying.
September 6th, 2011 - Kay
Blame. Blame is an addiction that the vast majority of our society is addicted to. When something goes wrong, no matter the significance, we want to blame. Bullying. Bullying is an epidemic. That might sound extreme, but answer me this, in what place is bullying not an issue at some level. If you have an answer to that question, you are either not being realistic or I want to move to your community asap!
So, whose fault is bullying? Is it the bully? I think it is fair to say that they have to factor in the equation at some point, they are the one committing the action. But why is the bully a bully? I am not a geneticist, with the exception of some extreme anger management disorders, I don't think we can make the claim on a wide scale that bullies are born bullies. So then it must be the parents. The child was born angelic and at some point something went wrong. The trick is that "something" can be any number of things. In my 43 years as an educator, I have seen young people of all backgrounds turn to bullying. Some children have every material they could hope to want, but lack the attention at home and act out to gain that attention. Others have loving parents but lack the material needs and act out due to anger, "why don't I have that? I deserve it". Physical abuse, learning disorders, behavioral disorders, you name it, it can be the "something". So let's blame the schools. Any why not? I mean these are trained men and women who should be able to deal with this, right? With an hour a day they should be able to mold the entire lives of thirty young people, right? This is why we have school, right?
My answer, everyone needs to stop with blame and work together to address bullying. To those who bully, I know that you are likely not doing this as a recreational hobby, I am sure you are lashing out due to some form of hurt. I challenge you every time you look to bully, to read the story of Megan Meier, as a reminder of how deeply your words can hurt and how far the consequences range. To the parents, I realize that more are the challenges and higher are the climbs today. You each face unique and legitimate challenges in raising your children. I challenge you not to be so quick to dismiss your children’s behavior as "just the way they are" or assuming the bullying is a response to someone else, "someone else must have started it". I further challenge you to set the example and not bully amongst other adults. One saying that I think is totally accurate is that children, no matter what the age will duplicate observed behaviors. Don't give your children bullying as a duplicatable behavior. And, for the love of God, your children should NEVER see you bully one of their peers. One Lori Drew is quite enough. Lastly, to my brother and sister educators, resources and growing less, classrooms are bursting at the seams, the obstacles are everywhere. My challenge to you is don't forget your role as a role model. Your voice is heard loud and clear in the vast majority of your students, even if their actions do not support it. Don't give up on these kids, don't just allow bullying to become a standard within your school, you have a voice.
In summary, we are all responsible. Accept your role. Join this wonderful movement to bring simple peace to our schools and communities. Make a difference today!
August 29th, 2011 - John
In every functional work place, everyone has his or her role. Within the Megan Meier Foundation, Tina is our spokeswoman. Her ability to tell HER story with the composure and elegance that she does is beyond any words I could tie together. My role is very behind the scenes and I love it. I often tell Tina, "My job is to make it so that you can go help people and not have to worry about all the other stuff". But for this one day, I will come out from the comfort of the shadows and share a little bit about my view on life.
When I sit at my desk, all I have to do is look to my right to see a collage of Megan. This young girl was simply beautiful in every way possible, what a life she could have lived! I see her sister Allison in those same pictures. Allison and Tina have become my family, I cherish them more than I could express. Yet behind their beautiful smiles I know they still miss their sister/daughter so much, a pain I can't relieve. A loss so unnecessary, a gap so large.
I am so very proud of everything this foundation has accomplished. While I admit to enjoying the comforts of my office, when I do join Tina in the field, it warms my heart to see those young men and women who have suffered the hardships associated with bullying come forward with a new outlook on life, a new hope. I wonder how many of them suffered like Megan, I wonder how many lives are saved by hearing this story, and seeing the pain suicide causes. We have done so much, reached so many, but the reality is the need for awareness and education regarding the impact of bullying and cyberbullying is still so massive.
This foundation began as one family’s response to a heart breaking tragedy. Since it's inception in 2007, so many amazing people have joined us in this battle against bullying and cyberbullying. Yet I know, speaking for myself, my interest was largely motivated as a result of Megan's death. I felt so moved to join a cause in response to a life taken so very unjustly.
My challenge to each of you is this, don't wait for another beautiful life to be lost before you step up and make a difference. Yes, so many causes are out there that make a valid claim to our time, talent and treasure, but this is SO simple. It's that good old golden rule being put into practice, that’s it. While it may be simple, lives are very much at stake. All I have to do is look to my right to gain a reminder of that fact. Don't make another tragedy your motivation to stop bullying around you. Talk to your children, TODAY. Talk to your friends, TODAY. Make a difference, TODAY.