A semi-regular attempt (in other words, as I have time) to explore the interaction between God and the adolescent world, especially the connection between theory and praxis (otherwise known as practical theology). Primary emphasis will be given to the role of the church (and especially the emerging church) in this process.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Tragedy of Sick Joke Should Haunt 'Jokers'

The following is a column by Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts that was syndicated today. I read it in the Lexington Herald Leader. I'll offer a few comments after the story.

This will kill you.

Have you heard about the practical joke that was played on a girl in Dardenne Prairie, near St. Louis? You're going to slap your knee at this one. You're going to bust a gut.

See, this girl - Megan Meier was her name - was 13. You remember 13, that gawky, uncertain age when you're growing into a new body, hormones firing off like howitzers. They say Megan was a heavyset child, emotionally vulnerable as only an adolescent girl can be. They say she had ADD and struggled with depression.

Are you laughing yet?

It seems Megan had this friend, a girl who lived a few doors down. Through seventh grade, they had gone round and round: best friends one day, feuding the next, the way kids do. Finally, Megan broke off the friendship for good. She was done with the other girl. But the girl was not done with her.

This all happened last year, by the way, but we are indebted to reporter Steve Pokin of the Suburban Journals newspaper for bringing it to our attention just days ago. Since then, the story has made national headlines. Because everybody loves a good joke.

So anyway, sometime after Megan and the other girl ended their relationship, this guy named Josh Evans shows up on Megan's MySpace page saying he wants to be added as a friend. And this Josh, he's like a gift from the god of cute boys. He's new in town, home schooled, fatherless, a musician, a major hottie. And he wants to be friends. He thinks Megan is pretty. Chunky, socially awkward Megan.

She describes herself to him with an acrostic. M, for modern. E, for enthusiastic. G, for goofy. A, for alluring.

N, for neglected.

For a time, everything was good. Oh, it was strange that Josh never gave her a phone number and never asked for hers, but Megan overlooked that. Then Josh sent that strange message: "I don't know if I want to be friends with you anymore because I've heard that you are not very nice to your friends." Megan was shocked. Where was this coming from?

It was a Sunday night. As it turned out, the last Sunday of Megan's life. Are you laughing yet?

The next day after school, Megan asked her mother - Tina Meier restricted Megan's online access - to log on the computer so Megan could check for new messages. What she found horrified her. Josh was still sending mean notes. And he had apparently been sharing her messages with others. Now the online community was abuzz with invective. Megan was fat. Megan was a slut.

Megan was destroyed. Especially after one last hateful message from Josh. You're a bad person, he said. Everybody hates you. The world would be better without you.

He got his wish just hours later. Megan Meier hanged herself that night.

Weeks later, her family got the punch line. There never was a Josh. He was a fiction, created by the parents, Curt and Lori Drew, of the girl who had once been Megan's friend. By. The. Parents.

People have threatened and harassed the Drews and there are fears for their safety. No fears of prosecution, though; what they did broke no laws. But me, I don't want to hurt or jail them. I just want them to know how funny that joke was. How hee-fricking-larious.

No one wants acceptance quite as desperately as an adolescent girl who has never been the most popular, never been the prettiest. What brilliance, what comic genius, to take that vulnerability and use it against her.

So no, I don't want these folks hurt. I want them healthy. I want them long-lived. And I want them to be reminded, every day of their long, healthy lives, what a great joke they pulled.

They really paid Megan back. They really got her good.

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.)

© 2007 The Miami Herald

As one who is a vocal advocate for adolescents, I admit that when I first read this story I was angry. Teenagers have more than enough problems simply navigating adolescence without having to worry about adults causing them emotional harm. How often have we heard of adults who contribute to a teenagers' troubles by purposely using their knowledge of the adolescent psyche to hurt a teenager because of a slight (whether real or perceived) to their own child.

If this had happened in your youth group, how would you have responded...
* to the parents who lost their child?
* to the parents who committed the crime? (It might not be a legal crime, but in my opinion, it's certainly a crime.)
* to the teen of the parents who committed the crime?
* to the youth in your group who knew either of the teenagers?


Anonymous Fighter2 said...

Our site deals primarily with predators who prey on other vulnerable adults. However, the Meier case could be a first step in recieving justice for ANY victim who is preyed on by someone online.

We do NOT feel Megan's parents were in any, way, shape or form responsible for what happened. Lori Drew and her family need to take full responsibility. Lori needs prison for 2nd Degree Manslaughter & Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress. Her whole family needs counseling.

The internet justice she is getting is justified, in our opinion. But any vigilante justice we can't condone. We fully support the Meiers and some real justice, not a misdemeanor, is long overdue here.

- Hide quoted text -




9:50 PM

Blogger Kyle said...

Giving a 13 year old girl almost entirely unsupervised access to mySpace is more like letting them go hitchhiking across the country than, say, sending them off to summer camp. One cannot protect a child from the cruelty of all the other children, all of the time, but how many more sensationalist Dateline NBC specials need to air before they realize how many adults are using such websites to exploit and harm their children? I suspect that if Megan had gone out to meet a predator at the mall, the reaction to her parents might be different.

That being said, it seems very strange that there aren't laws that cover online harassment by an adult just as there are for "in person" harassment.

3:20 AM

Blogger Kyle said...

Oh, and I guess if they were in my parish I would

1. strongly discourage unsupervised internet usage by children (hello!)
2. regarding Megan's parents, go through the grieving with them like any other parents, but also at some point invite them to take responsibility for their role in the girls death, instead of living in bitterness as if they were "innocent" victims
3. if the perpetrators were my responsibility, I would work out some kind of penance with them, and bar them from communion for 3 years, like the Church did with murderers/soldiers way back when
4. for kids in the youth group, it's a pretty urgent object lesson, that words matter

3:24 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is important to remember that there are two sides to every story, and this is no different. Megan's mother would do well to let it go, already.

For a different point of view, simply go here: http://www.michaelcrook.org/blog/category/megan-meier/.

Michael Crook
Mays Landing, NJ

12:55 PM

Blogger theoskaris said...

Michael, while I respect your right to your own opinion, I have to strenuously disagree with your assessment. As someone who has 20 years experience professionally working with adolescents, and whose educational background includes doctoral level counseling courses, your post indicates that your understanding of the issues involved in mental illness is overly naive at best and outright dangerous at worst. Let me encourage you to do some basic reading in the field of psychology on the subjects of depression and identity formation in order to understand how someone who was already depressed could, in fact, be pushed over the edge by types of comments Lori Drew and her daughter directed at Megan.

10:29 PM


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