(NEW YORK) -- Since 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky was killed and dismembered after getting lost on his way home from camp, parents everywhere cannot help but reexamine their own parenting decisions.
Kletzky had begged his parents to be able to walk home alone. They had finally let him do so on Tuesday. But in the short distance from his camp to the place where he was to meet his parents in Brooklyn, New York, Leiby got lost and met a stranger who killed him, police said.
The case has reminded parents that the worst can happen.
"It is one of the most horrific crimes -- and I've been doing this for over 20 years -- that I've ever heard of," said Nancy McBride, national safety director at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
About 58,000 children are abducted in the United States annually by people who have no blood relationship to them, according to the latest statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice. By far, most of those abductors are not strangers -- they are a mother's boyfriend, a babysitter, a parent in a custody battle. The great majority are sexually motivated, McBride said, and most of the children are released and return home.
However, about 115 of those cases each year are classic "stranger abductions," said McBride. In as many as 50 of those cases, the child is murdered.
So how can parent balance concerns over keeping their children safe while allowing them to grow up? Here are some tips from experts:
When Should Your Child Be Permitted to Go Out Alone?
While there is no magic number, "Typically, when children are around 12 or 13 years old, they have the wherewithal to be aware of the risks and also have the wherewithal to reach out if they do need help,'' said Rosemary Webb, co-president of Child Lures Prevention/Teen Lures Prevention, a Vermont-based child and parent safety organization.
Webb and others emphasized that every child is different, and parents need to make decisions based on their particular child and situation -- urban versus suburban, the maturity level of the child, the means necessary to get where the child needs to go.
Rescript the Stranger Danger Talk
Instead of telling children not to talk to strangers, "Teach kids to make judgment calls not based on what a person looks like but, rather, their behavior and what they want you to do,'' said Pattie Fitzgerald of Safely Ever After, Inc., a Los Angeles-area consultant who teaches safety to parents and children.
Children should be taught that if they are lost, they should find a store and ask a clerk behind the cash register or someone in charge for help, or ask a mother with children.
Some safety experts point out that children should be taught that a person in a uniform is not necessarily a safe person and certainly not the only person they can reach out to for help. Police officers may not be around when a child is lost or needs help.
What Your Child Should Do When Approached by a Possible Predator
Children need to learn that, "Safe grownups don't ask kids for help when they're by themselves or just with another kid,'' said Fitzgerald. "A safe grownup shouldn't be asking a child for assistance and it's OK to say no to an adult who is asking for help, and to immediately walk in the opposite direction."
"If they feel scared, if they feel threatened, or if they are grabbed, make a loud commotion, even if the perp says, 'Don't yell,'" said Fitzgerald. "Make a commotion."
Use the Buddy System
Predators are less likely to target a child in a group.
Create a Family Plan of Action
Parents should create a family plan of action and talk through the scenarios with the child regularly. Discuss the possibilities: What do you do if you get lost? What do you do if you need help at the mall? What if there was an emergency in our family, who would come to get you?
Guard Your Child's Privacy
Do not put your child's name on clothing or backpacks. Predators can use the knowledge to catch the child off guard.
Use Technology to Your Advantage
If you think your child is old enough to handle the responsibility, cellphones are a great tool for children to reach out for help and to give parents some piece of mind. But experts warn that batteries run out, children use phones inappropriately and predators would likely know that a phone could lead authorities to them.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio