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Kidnapping case offered lessons

Heather Harris' commentary, "Media message unfair to missing child" (Nov. 20), misreads the message sent by the police and the media in the recent case of the abducted Baltimore County girl. She suggests that the "noise" created leads people to think that a missing 12-year-old girl is no big deal or that we shouldn't care too much about her because she "had a history of engaging with men online." I cared about this missing child. I prayed that she would be returned safely to her family. I also thought that she directly contributed to her kidnapping. That's the message I heard in all the noise that was generated, and it's exactly the message that Heather Harris and every one of us should be hearing.

The media and the police focused on her online activity because that is apparently what brought the alleged kidnapper to her, and it is precisely what led the police to find her. Don't dismiss the psychological noise, just hear the helpful part. Ms. Harris asks what we, the audience, are supposed to do with the "titillating morsel of information" that a 12-year-old was using social media in a dangerous fashion? I'll tell you exactly what we're supposed to do: Parents should use this as an opportunity to educate themselves and their children. Did the parents know that their 12-year-old daughter was using social media to communicate with strangers? Are we judging this girl and her family because of this information? Perhaps. I'm sure there are plenty of regrets floating around.

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If this happened in my family — and no doubt it could happen to any of us — I would think as a parent, "Why didn't we take away or better monitor her use of the iPod and X-box?" This is a cautionary tale and we should learn from it. Although I fully agree with Ms. Harris' assertion that this girl and all missing children deserve our compassion and concern, in this example she is focusing on the wrong dialogue. The "outdated and outlandish defaults" that we must move beyond are the thinking that we are as savvy as our children when it comes to computer use. Nope. We're not. Educate yourselves. Educate your children. Don't be afraid to say no or to take away their devices.

This young girl was found quickly and alive. Shaming and blaming, if that did occur, didn't deter from her rescue. Ms. Harris is correct that our goals should be to protect the more than 1,000 children who go missing each year. We can't always prevent these kidnappings from happening, but when we can, we should.

Janene L. Malamud

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