WYOMING, MICH. — Online predators are becoming an increasing problem for students in junior high and high schools across West Michigan. A letter was sent to parents across the area, from districts like Wyoming and Jenison, and Hamilton schools.
The letter describes a painful reality. One where kids are given an unidentified Google Meet invitation. When they join, they are exposed to nudity on the other end of the call.
Melissa Werkman, Executive Director for the Children's Advocacy Center, says while there may be no physical contact, that doesn't lessen the damage.
”Witnessing child pornography, inappropriate photos, bullying online, any sort of grooming behavior from an adult online to a child…those are traumatic. In and of themselves.” Werkman said.
As if the images weren't enough, the schools say kids are often asked to expose themselves as well. If they do, they are recorded, and then threatened with the leaking of the video.
“Explicitly talk with kids, about if they should find themselves in a situation where they are being blackmailed, that it is safe to come to their parents, that their parents will believe them,” Werkman said.
Werkman says to let your kids know you're always on their side, even if it's embarrassing.
“We understand that it’s awkward. We understand that your kids don’t necessarily want to talk with you about it,” Werkman said.
Werkman says it's better to have an uncomfortable conversation than a devastating reality.
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“A child may not be with that person in person and may not have actually met them, and even though it’s happening virtually, that’s still very traumatizing for children, and they still need services,” Werkman said.
Find resources for how to start this conversation with your children here.