Ozarks couple training parents to keep kids safer online

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BRANSON, Mo. An Ozarks family is on a mission to protect your families. Their goal is to share tools that can defend against the dangers of the online world. And they want to bring those resources right into your living room.

Michael and Melinda Prince aim to teach parents, in a small group setting, about setting digital boundaries. They're based in the Branson area, but travel full time with four kids, on a mission to keep other families safe online.

"We saw a huge gap between parents' understanding of the digital world their kids are being raised in; they're being called digital natives, and they're born into this digital world," says Michael.

They've written a book called "What's in Your Pocket" to guide parents, but are also bringing the information at no cost, right into Ozarks homes. "I jokingly say, it's like a Mary Kay party, but instead of selling makeup, I'm teaching you how to protect your kids on the internet," Michael says.

Stephen and Camille Bowlby invited a group of friends and fellow parents to their home. "Like most parents, we just want to keep them safe," Stephen says.

While the kids play in another room, their moms and dad learn tools to protect them for years to come from dangers like sexting, adult content, cyber bullying, and online predators.

"It's not a matter of trusting your kids because they're just good kids. It's a matter of, that stuff is now trying to get to them," Michael says.

"It's kind of scary in some ways, but it's definitely good to be informed," says parent Stephanie Reppert.

They learn tools for phones, tablets and computers to guard kids while browsing, downloading apps, or spending time on social media. Parents learn a SAFE plan.

S is for SETUP:

Michael says, "You get it, you take it out of the box, you set up the parental controls, you put it back in the box, and when they open it, it's already set up."

Set the ratings for downloading games, music and apps, and don't give your kids the password. Also, disable the location setting for photos, so predators don't know where your kids frequently snap selfies.

“Just taking a photo of my kids at the park; I wouldn't really think, oh, someone's going to check out my photo and realize where I was,” says Reppert.

A is for ACCOUNTABILITY:

“I would say if you do nothing else, get an accountability software. An accountability software is going to; you're going to install it on your devices and your computers, and it's going to alert you if your kids see anything that's not appropriate,” says Michael.

Most of the softwares do require a monthly fee. For example, Accountable2You starts at 6.99 a month. Covenant Eyes and X3Watch are his other recommendations.

“And the conversation is the most important thing,” Michael says.

F is for FILTERING:

Set filters in a device's operating system and web browsers. But for a price, you can also download real-time page reading filters like Circle or Net Nanny, that cover all of a family's devices.

“My kids are young, but just knowing that a lot of times, kids access stuff on accident, I don't want that to be the case, so being proactive is definitley something I intend on doing for sure,” says Reppert.

E is for EDUCATION:

It means continue to research things like dangerous app lists, follow bloggers or Facebook pages about online dangers, and set up social media accounts where you can watch your kids' activity.

“It is kind of overwhelming to realize that there are just so many different avenues and different ways for there really to be things my kids would see that I woudn't necessarily have even thought of,” Reppert says.

Michael says some parents take all the information and run with it, or he says, “I get people who say, I'm busy, my life is crazy. Can I just have you come do this for me? So I have options for either one of those.”

It's work to keep your kids safe on the web, but Michael believes they're necessary tools for the dangers of the digital age.

“This is our children, afterall. They're not growing up in the same world I grew up in,” says Bowlby.

“Our heart is to be preemptive and we say instead of putting an ambulance at the bottom of the hill, put a fence at the top, to say, before this becomes an issue, let's set these things up so that your kids are safe,” Michael says.

Check out links to Michael and Melinda Prince’s website, BecauseFamily.org and the resources mentioned to the right side of this story. You can even set up a free workshop at your house or buy their book, “What’s in Your Pocket”. They hope to eventually have more teams doing similar workshops all over the country.