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How to talk to kids about strangers

Sarah Caron is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and editor. She lives with her wonderful husband, two adorable kids and two funny beagles. Check out her food blog at Sarah's Cucina Bella.

Stranger danger

Does your child know how to stay safe around strangers? Jaycee Dugard's abduction has many parents worried about the safety of their children around strangers. As a parent, you want to protect your children in whatever way that you can. While you cannot control what anyone else will ever do, you can educate your children so they are prepared to face the reality and dangers of life. Here's how.

The stories of Jaycee Lee Dugard, Elizabeth Smart and other children who've been abducted and found are laced with every mother's worst nightmare and greatest hope in an abduction. No one ever wants the safety and security of your children to be rocked like that, but if it is, you want them to come home again. These stories highlight the need to teach children how to handle uncertain situations and how to avoid danger.

Would your child know what to do?

Today's greatest threats

Much has changed in the past 20 years in terms of the lessons of child safety. Twenty years ago, kids were taught the impractical lesson of not talking to strangers. Cyber-safety wasn't a thought in anyone's head yet. And sexting? Totally didn't exist. But today, things have really changed.

"Some of the biggest threats to kids today are found online: cyber bullying, fake facing, online predators and identity theft," says Carrie Kerskie, a certified identity theft risk management specialist with The Cyber Safety Institute (cybersafetyinstitute.com).

Kerskie says that if left unchecked, these threats can lower kid's self-esteem, causing stress, depression and anxiety.

Safety online

The days of bullies stuffing their prey into lockers and shooting spitballs across the lunchroom are long gone. Today, bullies can infiltrate their victim's home with just a few clicks. "Bullies are using email, social networking, blogging, texting, voice mail and more to bully classmates," says Kerskie. And in cases like Megan Meier, who committed suicide at age 13 after being cyberbullied on MySpace, it can end in tragedy.

For more information on this important subject, read 6 Ways to protect your kids on the internet.

Child Predators

The old adage that kids should never talk to strangers is flawed, at best. Stephen Balzac, president of the organizational firm 7 Steps Ahead, says that he was among the generation taught not to talk to strangers, but today the advice is much different.

"Today, I would never teach a kid not to talk to strangers. We need to realize that most strangers are harmless and most people will help a kid in distress. If the child is afraid to talk to an adult, who will he or she ask for directions if they get seperated from their parents at the mall? ... Predators always look for easy targets: kids who are lost and confused and who don't know how to ask for help," says Balzac, who has taught self-defense and awareness classes for kids.

Also, there is a new breed of predators preying on kids. Online predators can pose as anything they want -- an athletic teen, an outgoing cheerleader, a 22-year-old billionaire -- and trick anyone. The biggest problem with this? It could be hampering kids' emotional intelligence. "Technology has created an emotional ignorance where kids today have become immune to body language and learning to detect a scary situation. ... More focus needs to be placed on developing their emotional intelligence so they improve their inner voice and know when to recognize a scary situation and know how to react," says Kerskie.

Next page: Child safety experts give tips on keeping kids safe from Child Predators

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