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LET'S MAKE SURE WE PROTECT CHILDREN IN TODAY'S ONLINE ERA

I enjoy watching my 9-year-old daughter bounce and swivel on the chair in front of our Macintosh.

She clicks and slides the mouse across the pad with an expertise incongruous with her wobbly, neophyte scrawl.On the screen, she choreographs coyotes in tutus, fire-breathing stars, flying pizzas and more. Her tiny animations gyrate to anything from canned '60s "doo-wop" tunes and eerie howling noises to pieces of living room gossip she has recorded herself. I sit nearby on our couch and relax for now.

I know that the chat rooms available to us online are about as interesting to her as a bowl of chopped spinach. How I wish it could remain this way. Then I wouldn't have to think about what I will do four years down the road when she begins to chat with people who could be other adolescents eager to exchange information. But they could also be adult pedophiles reaching into the heart and mind of the child I have sung to sleep so many evenings and danced with spontaneously while baking cookies.

I don't relish warning her about possible predators in cyberspace, but I can't argue with quotes I've heard from experts who say parents should defend their homes against possible abuse sneaking in via modem.

It is the responsibility of parents to know what our children are doing on- and offline and to inform them of possible risks. I was warned as a child not to get into a car with strangers no matter how much candy they offered me.

However, I was also told as a child that if anyone tried to kidnap me or harm me in any way, they would be swiftly pursued by the police and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. This was reassuring.

I hope when my daughter begins to navigate the Internet that I will be able to adequately prepare her for a safe and satisfying journey. I also hope I'll be able to tell her that anyone who tries to entice her with bus tickets and promises of a carefree life somewhere across the country will be swiftly pursued and prosecuted to the full extent of the laws we will have created.

While I don't want free speech curtailed by cybermarshals, I don't want parents to bear the entire brunt of protecting our children in this new medium.

I'd like to tell my daughter that we as a community are working together to protect our children.