- The Washington Times - Friday, October 5, 2007

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

We’re at another of those junctures that puts me in a preachy mood, no matter how hard I try to shake it and say, “What, me worry?” So I’ll cut to the nitty-gritty: Pedophiles and other predators, who used to prowl our playgrounds and neighborhood streets, have fast become prolific Internet surfers.

Scum like that don’t surf for news.

They don’t pop in and out of DIY sites trying to discover the best way to install hardwood floors. And they certainly aren’t shopping online for chewing tobacco and spittoons.

Ooh, boy, but they are shopping.

They’re shopping for victims.

They prefer their victims young and naive.

Pay attention.

Alyssa Frank of Florida. Alyssa is 15. Alyssa, her dad says, will “yack your ears off.” Alyssa uses the computer in the family room. Her dad would pop in and check on her from time to time. But there never was anything on the computer screen to give his cause to pause or say, “What, me worry?”

That is until about 6:30 Monday morning. That’s when Alyssa’s mom went to awaken her for school. But guess what? No Alyssa.

Alyssa had crawled out of her bedroom window about 3 o’clock that morning looking “for love,” as she told her friends. But what Alyssa found was anything but love.

Awaiting her was a repeat sex offender named William Joe Mitchell, and, yes, he’s a surfer. That’s how he met Alyssa.

Mitchell took Alyssa across state lines and did who knows what with her before she — out of his eyesight — walked up to a Wal-Mart store clerk and said she’d been kidnapped. Thank God Alyssa is now home with her parents. Her dad says she’s not as talkative as she used to be.

When children go missing, we work like white-mouthed mules to find them. The media, law enforcers and ordinary citizens kick into gear. The Amber Alert and organizations like the Center for Missing and Exploited Children do what they do best. (In fact, there was an Amber Alert issued on Alyssa’s behalf.) Even television programs like Fox’s “America’s Most Wanted” and NBC’s “To Catch a Predator” expose these vile people for what they really and truly are.

There are other tools at our disposal. But the most important is called, well, being a parent.

I’m here to tell you, like Alyssa’s dad says, we can’t abdicate our throne. We accepted God’s blessing of children but then sit back and expect what? Ask a V-Chip to substitute for us when our children watch television. Ask the SCHIP to substitute for us when we refuse to work. Do you know what’s playing on your child’s iPod?

We substitute age-appropriate heart-to-hearts with one-size-fits-all sex-ed curricula. We substitute Christmas and Easter holidays for winter and spring breaks, as if Jesus and the resurrection no longer matter. (I warned you about the preaching.)

Look, being a parent isn’t easy. Children don’t come with manuals, and even if they did our load wouldn’t be any lighter.

Parents should decide what children watch on television and when they watch it. Parents should decide what children learn about sex and when they learn it. Parents should decide what children eat and when they eat it.

Our schools — where we’ve shifted our responsibility — are so overburdened with trying to teach about the facts of life until core subjects like social studies, arts and the humanities get shortshrift. Health, home economics and gym classes are no more.

Alyssa’s dad has taken on an entirely new perspective. He never suspected what she might be up to online. At a news conference on Wednesday, after Alyssa was found, he called himself “computer ignorant.” He also vowed, “But I won’t be for long. I will be able to build one by the time I’m done.”

A lot of parents — far too many parents — aren’t as blessed as Alyssa’s parents. Many of them agonize for weeks and months — even years — before their children are found. And in many of those cases, as we know all too well, it’s not a child that is found but a corpse. (It’s that very type of ending that pushed John Walsh of “America’s Most Wanted” on his mission; Mr. Walsh lost his son, Adam.)

Know this too, MySpace.com isn’t the only social networking site on the Internet. Chatrooms are packed with pedophiles and other predators in search of our children. And all predators aren’t men. It’s the clear and present danger of the anonymity of the Internet. Do you always know?

As Alyssa’s dad warns: “I want to tell parents, ‘watch your kids. Y’all gotta watch your children and take care of them better than you think you know how.’ ”

I’ll stop the preaching (for now) and close with these comments. It is our responsibility to get all up in our children’s business. So, keep this in mind: Predators are called predators because when we’re not looking, they are.

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