Do you think we value children enough in our society? I’ve been thinking about that lately and I’m not sure we do. Children should be our most precious resource, but a lot of the time we’re quick to criticise children and their shortcomings without recognising the role we play in their problems. As a society we seem to be fascinated by youth and beauty, but children are a burden, and one we still think should be seen and not heard.
I don’t mean to suggest that people don’t love their children, but I find it hard to believe that we’re doing all we can as a society to protect them. You only need to open a newspaper to see another story about child abuse and neglect. If there’s one thing I hate it’s seeing a child hurt, particularly a defenceless one, and the people who do speak for children’s rights seem to be silenced all too easily.
The story of Megan Meier’s death seems to have caught fire over the last few days, particularly among bloggers. If you haven’t heard the story, she committed suicide in October 2006 after receiving a flood of abuse from a 16 year old boy on MySpace. She was three weeks shy of her 14th birthday. What makes the story so despicable is that the boy never existed; instead “he” was a persona created by the parents of a girl who had been Megan’s best friend. Megan had received messages calling her “fat” and “a slut”, and the last, her father said, was this: “Everybody in O’Fallon knows how you are. You are a bad person and everybody hates you. Have a shitty rest of your life. The world would be a better place without you.” Megan hanged herself shortly afterwards.
The St. Charles Journal brought attention to the story earlier this month and I’ve been following it since then. It’s one of those stories that you can’t quite believe because it’s so horrible; we all recognise the cyber-bullying tropes in the story, but that adults would be responsible is stunning. I can’t even begin to imagine why they would do it… it’s incomprehensible.
But there’s something else about the story that’s been troubling me, the emotions surrounding it. The news article refused to name the family, which I agree with – but bloggers have. Dozens of blogs have not just named the family, but also their address. One comment was even inciting people to pursue the parents “over and over, until they too take their lives”. The outrage is fast becoming a public lynching.
I’m disgusted and outraged by what happened, but this anger is not helping; it’ll only make things worse. People taking the law into their own hands solves nothing and does not bring justice. What Megan’s death shows more is that there’s a hole in the law that needs to be filled. The parents didn’t tie the noose around Megan’s neck but surely they played a role in her death; there should be criminal consequences for that, consequences which do not exist under the current system.
A change to the law is what Ron and Tina Meier want, but once again it comes too late. That’s what really annoys me: the laws worldwide just don’t seem capable of keeping up with the new advances in technology, of protecting children in our world. It shouldn’t be acceptable that it takes a tragedy to bring about change… but of course, it’s the only thing that does.
It’s a sad fact of life that you need a licence to buy a car or a gun, but anyone can have a child. Perhaps that’s the real problem here. Just because you can have a child doesn’t make you a good parent. To me it isn’t creating a life that makes you a mother or a father, it’s that you care for and love your child, that you provide for them and would do anything to keep them safe. I would hope that’s what it means to most people.
That parents could do this to someone else’s child stuns me. You just have to think that some people shouldn’t have children, and they would be at the top of my list. I hope they come to realise what they’ve done, but more than anything I hope Megan’s family can find some closure, and that Megan can rest in peace.