In a perfect world, parents would be able to protect their children from every bad situation.
But parents can't be with their children 24 hours a day, especially as they become teenagers, so the best alternative is to prepare them by teaching children how to protect themselves.
Children can fall victim to predators for many reasons including being taught to trust adults so they are more susceptible to trickery or force, said Pearl Rimer, manager of research and training at Boost Children Abuse Prevention and Intervention, However, children can also be taught about personal safety, and parents should teach them while the children are young.
"You're starting with preschoolers," Rimer said, "...And the message you're giving them is 'A grown-up is responsible for your safety and supervision.'"
"The big challenge is how do we talk to kids about personal safety without them being afraid of their own community," Pearl Rimer, manager of research and training at Boost Children Abuse Prevention and Intervention.
Rimer said while it may seem daunting to have these conversations with two year olds, what many parents don't realize is they're already giving kids the messages early on, for example by telling kids they can't go outside by themselves.
But, beyond the basic safety rules, Rimer said there are other messages parents need to give their kids, which have been updated from what we may have learned in the past.
Street-proofing is a term that was used to describe how we've taught our kids to protect themselves. But Rimer said this term isn't used any more because it gives the message that a perpetrator is likely a stranger and since a child is most likely to be sexually abused by someone they know and trust, it sends the wrong message.
"We're not minimizing the things that do happen with strangers, but the field has worked hard at finding messages that apply to anybody (who is a potential threat) and not singling out the stranger," she said.
Another thing kids are often told is the difference between "good touch" and "bad touch." Rimer said this is also not used anymore because kids need to be told that any time someone touches them and it makes them uncomfortable, they need to tell someone.
"You're not just teaching the kids about sexual abuse or physical abuse, you're teaching kids about privacy and respect and boundaries," she said.
That means parents shouldn't focus teaching kids about being touched on their private parts. Rimer said most offenders go through a process of grooming their victim in order to get the child to trust them. These people often start by touching a child's face and giving them compliments.
"Younger kids will talk about the yucky or uh-oh feeling. Older kids will talk about being weirded out, but what goes on in the mind of kids is, 'This person isn't touching me in my private parts. Everybody told me no one should touch me in my private parts, I feel yucky, but maybe there's something wrong with me.'"
Another problem with the good or bad touch distinction is a child's body can respond to the inappropriate touch so a child will interpret an illegal touch as something that's good because it feels good.
"It's not just about sex. It's about any touch that makes you feel uncomfortable or you're not sure about, talk to a grown up," she said. "We want our kids to be able to tap into their gut feelings."
Rimer said parents should tell their kids that no one should ever tell them to keep a secret from their parents. This differs for a preschooler who thinks a secret is the action of whispering, but she said parents should tell them this any way.
"We still give them (children) key messages like, 'All touches can be talked about; no one should ever tell you to keep any touch a secret,' and we're not talking about sexual abuse, but all touch, like bullies who physically do things to kids."
The developmental stage of the child must also be held in consideration when talking to children about these issues because kids perceive things differently.
For example, most adults understand a stranger is someone you don't know, but Rimer said adults need to understand that kids decide who is a stranger differently. For young kids, this could be by how they look or if they are a man or woman.
"They usually describe the person or stranger as scruffy and scary. Lots of kids will talk about facial hair or they decide who is a stranger is based on how often they see them," Rimer said.
For example, a child who sees the postman every day will not consider him a stranger.
Another way kids will decide if a person is a stranger is how often their parents see them. Rimer said if you as a parent know and trust this person, then children are more likely to feel they can trust him as well.
"You're teaching children about privacy. You're teaching them that there are rules and that's it's the grown up who decides these things," she said.
As children grow up, the situations they could find themselves in also changes. You may have a babysitter who allow them to go to the mall or a sleepover or attend extracurricular activities, and this means the conversations have to change as well.
"The big challenge is how do we talk to kids about personal safety without them being afraid of their own community," she said.
So it's not about continually engaging in these conversations , rather it's about developing your parent-child relationship and talking when the natural opportunity arrives, such as prior to going to a sleep over.
As kids get older, they don't always want to go to their parents because they are embarrassed or they don't want to worry them, but Rimer said as long as children have an adult they can talk to, that's OK.
"You want them to come to you, but you make it OK for them to go to someone else," she said.
And, Rimer said, teens also need to know this rule applies to them if they are in a situation they weren't supposed to be in, such as going to the mall instead of the library.
"They need to know even grown-ups break rules," she said. "A lot of kids end up in compromising situations...and how are you going to tell your mom or dad because you weren't supposed to be there, so the message is, 'Even if you broke a rule, your safety is the most important thing.'"
By giving your children these messages, Rimer said the hope is to raise kids who are aware and will communicate with you when something is off or concerning.
It also lets them know you love and support them in any situation, which gives them confidence.
"We know that offenders look for and target kids who have poor self-esteem and who have poor relationships with their parents or who are poorly supervised," she said.