Parents can't protect their children every minute of the day. But they can give youngsters the tools and information to make smart, safe decisions.

Parents can't protect their children every minute of the day. But they can give youngsters the tools and information to make smart, safe decisions.

Children should be warned about talking to strangers, inappropriate touching, Internet predators and safe driving habits, according to law enforcement officials who teach safety to kids.

The conversations should start early, said Joel Strahler, school resource officer with the New Albany Police Department. Parents should begin offering basic safety information as soon as "the child is able to comprehend the discussion they're having," he said.

It's important to keep the conversations age-appropriate in order to not scare children, he added. Strahler suggested doing more than telling kids not to talk to strangers.

Instead, provide them with potential scenarios that could lead to harm, he said. Tell them not to give strangers directions, enter someone's car to help them retrieve something, or offer to ride along with someone looking for a lost pet. Remind children that they aren't expected to help adults solve problems.

"There's no reason an adult should be asking a child for any help whatsoever," Strahler said. Teach children to yell and scream if anyone ever tries to grab them, added Powell police officer Jared Wilt, who teaches self-defense classes geared to children age 5 to 12. "A lot of people give them knowledge but they don't teach what to do if they get grabbed," he explained. Providing children with solutions also can help lessen their fears, the experts said.

Parents need to be aware that more often than not, children are harmed or abused by someone known to the family, added officer Scott Manny of the Reynoldsburg Police Department. He suggested carefully screening the parents of your children's friends before allowing them to visit their homes. "We're called to be parents, not friends," he said. "Don't be afraid to say no. Your child's safety is more important than offending somebody."

It's also necessary that your child knows the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touching. Tell kids only certain people should touch them in the areas covered by a bathing suit, such as a family doctor. "Anyone other than those people should not touch in these areas," Manny said.

As children get older, online strangers become more of a worry, said Delaware County Sheriff Walter L. Davis. Parents need to be Internet savvy so they can keep track of where their kids go and how to block inappropriate sites, he said. It's much easier than people realize to find a person's address and phone number online, he warned. "Parents need to be engaged and we need to be aware," the sheriff said.

Melissa Kossler Dutton has worked as a reporter for more than a decade. She's a frequent contributor to a variety of Ohio publications. She lives in Bexley with her husband and two sons.