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:
3. Use Parental Controls and make a safety pledge
Net Nanny Parental Controls, CYBERsitter, and Cyberpatrol are popular software that let you specify with which buddies your child can chat or e-mail and which sites are okay to visit. For a comparison chart, visit http://internet-filter-review.toptenreviews.com.
Once you have the right filtering system for your computer, print out a safety pledge you and your child can sign and post by your computer. Here's one from Safekids.com: http://www.safekids.com/safekidscontract.pdf.
4. Do some prep work -- just in case
Did you know it takes parents about two hours to gather all the information law officials need to find a missing child? Scary stat: According to the Department of Justice, 74 percent of the children murdered by non-family members are killed within the first three hours of abduction. Always keep pictures of your kids at hand, and consider using some of these tools to help you maximize this crucial time should the unthinkable occur.
Many of the organizations and Web sites offering tools to keep kids safe from sexual predators were created in memory of missing kids. These are some of the young victims whose abductions helped change laws and raise awareness:
His dad, John Walsh, went on to create The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Web site: www.missingkids.com
The case prompted the first-ever law to create a statewide sex-offender registry. Web site: www.jwf.org
This 1993 case led to the creation of tougher penalties for child predators. Web site: www.pollyklaas.org
Her New Jersey neighbor -- a convicted sex offender -- kidnapped her in 1994. A law named for Megan requires state residents to be notified when a sex offender moves into the area. Web site: www.megannicolekankafoundation.org
The "Amber Alert" system designed to help find abducted children was created in her memory. Web site: www.codeamber.org
Her parents have become active lobbyists for tougher sex-offender laws since her 2002 adduction.
A law in her name increased prison sentences and other penalties for sex offenders. Web site: www.jmlfoundation.com
Shawn Hornbeck and Ben Ownby
Both were allegedly nabbed by Michael Devlin. Hornbeck lived with his captor for four years before being found (along with Ownby). The case raised awareness of the dangers of child predators once again. Web site: www.shawnhornbeck.com
What are your best keep-kids-safe strategies? Share them at Parents.com's Stay-at-Home Parents board.