NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – More than 250 school leaders and law enforcement officers from across the state filled the Wyndham Riverfront Hotel for training at the 13th Annual Arkansas Safe Schools Conference.
The conference focuses on the biggest issues affecting Arkansas students, like drugs and cyberbullying, which officials worry could lead to suicide.
“Reflect back to you as a child,” said Richard Davies, the past president of Arkansas Safe Schools Association. “What seems so trivial to you as an adult is life-threatening to a child, to a young person.”
During the past 13 years, Davies has watched cyberbullying spiral out of control as phones continue to make people even more accessible on multiple platforms.
“You have to keep up,” he said. “It’s difficult.”
One mom knows that all too well.
“When your kid is in pain from being made fun of, it hurts you as a parent, too,” said Tina Meier, the director of the Megan Meier Foundation.
In 2006, Meier’s daughter, Megan, like most teens, had a Myspace profile.
Meier regularly monitored her account and knew who she was friends with. One of them was a 16-year-old boy. At least, that’s what they thought.
“I was the parent that tried being the perfect parent,” Meier said. “We try to fix everything we can, discipline them in any way we can. I didn’t know any different.”
Just weeks before her 14th birthday, Megan and this boy she’d never met in person got into a fight and soon his messages went public to hundreds of kids, ending with, “The world would be a better place without you.”
“The pain never goes away,” Meier said.
But more than a decade later, it motivates her.
The boy turned out to be the Meier’s neighbors, Megan’s former friend and her mom, who created a fake profile.
Based in St. Louis, Meier now travels the country, spreading awareness of cyberbullying and suicide to thousands every year.
“It’s how I breathe,” she said. “I don’t know how I would survive if I didn’t do something about a tragedy that I can’t change.”
Her latest travels brought her to the conference in North Little Rock, where even someone who’s taught nearly every school resource officer in the state learned something.
“Pay attention because the kids are telling you,” Davies said. “I cannot think of an incident where there weren’t signs. They’re there. You can’t say, ‘Oh, it’s going to get better or toughen up.’ You have to understand where these kids are coming from. We’re not going to arrest or legislate our way out of this problem. We’re going to have to communicate and teach our way out of this problem.”
That’s why Meier will continue to keep her beloved daughter’s voice alive.
“‘You keep going, you keep spreading this message’ is what she’d tell me,” Meier said. “I don’t think she’d let me do it any other way.”
The Criminal Justice Institute worked with the Arkansas Safe Schools Association, the attorney general’s office, the Arkansas Department of Education and the Arkansas Department of Human Services to put on the conference.
The two-day event also trains attendees in emergency preparedness planning, school security, teen dating violence, gangs and LGBT issues.
Parents interested in more information and resources can visit the CJI website and the Megan Meier Foundation website.
“Parents also need to know they’re not alone,” Meier said. “It’s okay to be scared and not know what to do. You hear the word [suicide] and you think, ‘What have I done wrong as a parent?’ It’s okay to talk about it. The biggest thing is you’re not alone, and I hear you.”