Most often, sexual predators are people kids know. So how do you help them discern the good from the bad? These resources and tips -- some from organizations created by parents of high-profile kidnapping victims like Polly Klaas and Megan Kanka -- can help.
1. Test your child's safety IQ -- and yours
Does your child know who to ask for help if he's lost? Or what to do if a nice lady asks for directions? The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) offers online safety quizzes that make great educational tools -- for parents and kids. Do you know what to do if you suspect online "stalking" or sexual exploitation of a child? Go to their site and find out at www.missingkids.com.
2. Use online games to practice "What would you do..." scenarios
There are lots of games (most for kids ages 5 to 17) that simulate online and day-to-day activities to help kids identify potential dangers. Use them as a springboard to teach your child how to handle them. Pretend you're a stranger on the phone, asking questions about when Mom and Dad come home from work. Would your child know what to say?
Here are some of the sites to check out:
Meet Clicky, a cute robot that sings catchy rap songs to help kids memorize safety rules. He also stars in videos and games that show kids the right thing to do when approached by a stranger when online. NetSmartz is a joint program of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
McGruff is the dog from the National Crime Prevention Council that tells kids to "take a bite out of crime." Puzzles, slide shows, and games teach kids how to say "No!" to strangers and how to get home safely.
This game teaches kids how to identify the "creeps" on e-mail, chat, and IM. It simulates conversations tweens and teens might have, using different characters kids can select. This site is also from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, and it's available in English and Spanish.
Superheroes and cute cartoons are the spokespersons for four connected sites: Wiredkids.org, InternetSuperHeroes.org, Katiesplace.org, and Teenangels.org -- all part of Wired Kids, a worldwide charity that offers information on how to keep children safe from online sexual exploitation. Let your kids check out their games and quizzes.