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Does 'stranger danger' go too far?

Expert says teaching kids to evaluate situations is key

Brennan Hawkins, the 11-year-old Utah Boy Scout who was found on Tuesday after going missing for four days, told his family that he was afraid rescuers "would steal him," perhaps delaying authorities from finding him in the mountains outside of Salt Lake City.

That leaves the question of whether society focuses too much on the wrong thing when teaching kids to protect themselves from being "stolen," as Brennan put it? 

Consider these numbers: Every day in this country about 2,000 children are reported missing.  That means close to 800,000 kids are reported missing every year, but only 115 kids a year are victims of what is viewed as classic stranger abductions.  So is the stranger-danger lesson maybe outdated? 

On Wednesday, Nancy McBride of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children joined Dan Abrams to discuss the issue.

To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the link above.

DAN ABRAMS: So do we need to step telling our kids hey don't talk to strangers in any case?

NANCY MCBRIDE:  Yes.  I am so excited to have this opportunity to say let's take stranger-danger and put it in a museum.  We need to teach our kids things are actually going to help them if they are in trouble. 

ABRAMS:  Like what?  I mean for example -- look a lot of people would say still I don't want my kids talking to some random you know guy on the street at the mall when you know they stray 20 yards behind me by accident and some guy walks up to them.  I don't want them talking to him.

MCBRIDE:  Which is fine advice, but we really need to teach our kids about situations to avoid and be concerned about, not people because we can't tell who the good people and the bad people are.  Wouldn't it be great if we could?  If we could just point them out?  But we can't, so that message really doesn't work for kids. 

ABRAMS:  So what do you say to them?  What do you say to them to prevent them you know from going up, talking -- kids are friendly.  You ask a kid a question ... if you touch the right nerve you could talk to a kid. 

MCBRIDE:  And that is the whole point.  Kids are easy to be tricked.  And what we need to teach our kids is that they don't really talk to anybody they don't know unless you, the parent, or guardian are with them and they don't fall for the tricks.  Mommy has not been in an accident, there is no puppy, and you don't respond to people you don't know.  You don't need to be polite, you need to stay safe. 

Watch the 'Abrams Report' for more analysis and interviews each weeknight at 6 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV.