A woman who was a childhood friend and classmate of Jacob Wetterling was at Sleepy Eye Public School on Wednesday, March 29 to present information on personal safety to students and parents. Alison Feigh, Program Manager for the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, presented age appropriate information to four groups—students in kindergarten through third grade, fourth through sixth graders, high school students and adults.
While speaking to the high school students, Feigh explained that Jacob was a friend of hers and his disappearance naturally affected her as she grew up. She said she wanted to “do something” about it and ended up with a career speaking to kids and adults about personal safety and prevention of online exploitation. Feigh concentrated on the issue of online exploitation in her presentation to the students in grades seven through 12.
She said 50 percent of teens feel addicted to screen time—their online presence through their phones and computers. “Kids feel a pressure to present a certain image online,” she said, giving the example of checking how many “likes” their posts get, even deleting a photo if it isn’t liked as often as that of a friend or classmate.
Feigh repeatedly stressed to the teenagers that sexting—sending sexually explicit photos over their phones—is against the law, and a felony for those over 16, who have to register as a sex offender if convicted. She explained that when kids create and send sexual images of themselves or other kids, adults eventually get them and sell or buy the images as child pornography—that is why it is illegal.
Another key message from Feigh was when children/teens are victimized, the perpetrator is usually someone they know, often a family member. “I don’t teach ‘stranger danger’,” she said. “Kids need to trust people they don’t know in order to get help.” Feigh also urged the teens to step up and advocate for each other, telling them to move from being a bystander to an upstander. “If you see or hear other kids pressuring someone to do something (like sending photos) tell that person to stop.”
“Reach out to an adult when you need help,” she told the students. “If it can’t be a family member, talk to a teacher or other adult you trust.” That evening, Feigh spoke to adults at the school. Parents, grandparents and other caring adults were invited to the presentation.