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Family protection

My wife and I joke that our neighborhood is like a Hollywood set without the people. No one is ever outside.

We often go for long walks. We might see some kids shooting by on bikes, or a barking dog defending a boundary visible only to his canine sensibility.

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Last Saturday morning, people were everywhere. Families palpably cherished each other.

The sight of mothers and fathers wordlessly going about the business of comforting their children in the wake of the destruction and deaths at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon thawed the TV images that had frozen our hearts. The image that remains - an image that deeply gratifies - is of fathers, talking, playing with their children.

Later that day, this time at a local Audubon sanctuary, there were as many families as birds on the boardwalk that stretches out over a series of ponds and wetlands. One corner of the pond is a gathering place for snapping turtles. Big, primitive, prehistoric creatures. A father cautioned a young son about not reaching down. He pointed to smaller, black-shelled turtles as OK.

Our cover story tracks this theme of family togetherness, of families uniting against the dangers of the larger world. It looks at teenagers online who need protecting, even if they don't think so.

Online providers like AOLTimeWarner issue password-secure chatrooms to adolescents. Many parents don't even know these chatrooms exist, or that they are shut out without the password. They do realize there are dangers online. These chatrooms are vulnerable to tasteless, exploitative marketers, pornographers, sexual predators.

After last week's tragedy, it is clear that parents and children will be together more - online as well, I am sure.