Interview for April 2009 Family Pulse magazine

Posted by Ryan Jerz on Wednesday April 8, 2009.

A few weeks ago I was interviewed by Heidi Stroebe (and fellow Elko High Alum!), who was writing a story about social networking sites for Family Pulse Magazine. The interview was about how I use social networking sites, and how we allow our kids to use them. I figure if I’m ever going to take off with this whole “I’m on David LaPlante’s Dads Blogroll” thing, I better start telling people what I do to parent. I’m curious if any of you have similar or different thoughts on how we handle things with our kids.

So, here is the interview in its entirety:

Questions Regarding Your Personal Use

What social networking websites are you currently using?
I use Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, LinkedIn and have my own blog. I also started a social networking site specifically for Reno called Reno Baby! located at renonv.ning.com.

How did you get started/when did you hear about social networking? How many years have you been social networking?
A friend introduced be to website building in 1998. In 2001, I started a blog. In the beginning, I used it to talk about everyday occurrences. Over time, I began including more serious subject matter – politics, sports, journalism, etc. I began using Flickr in 2004. I jumped into Facebook in 2006 when I went back to school. To join Facebook at that time, you had to have an email address that ended in .edu, so I couldn’t join until I was once again a university student.

Why would you suggest using a social networking site?
I do it for fun a lot of the time, but I’ve made some business connections through these sites as well. It’s a great way to present both yourself and your business to the world. With what I do, if you’re not on these sites, you probably won’t find much success.

What are some advantages to social networking vs. human interaction?
Social networking can happen anytime. I don’t like to spend a lot of time away from my family during my free time. Using these sites keeps me well connected to friends and family without leaving the house… let alone my chair. It also gives me a very good place to showcase what I know and what I do, which has led to a few opportunities in business. Because of my efforts online, I’ve launched a business helping others, among other things, navigate the world of social media. I never would have made many of these connections without the sites I use.

What are some disadvantages to social networking?
I don’t think there are disadvantages to social networking, as long you use it “correctly.” To me, that means being honest. If you know me online, that’s exactly who I am in real life. Projecting an image of yourself other than who you are will become obvious to your online contacts, and they will soon lose interest in what your false persona has to say. I’ve seen people struggle trying to hide their personal online life from their public work life. Granted, you may not be able to put “everything” out there due to job worries, etc. But a small portion your true self is better than a large portion of an imaginary character any day. As a friend once said to me, “Fiction is for novels.”

What are some mistakes/faux pas commonly made when social networking? Please provide a brief explanation.
Some people think social networks exist to display their wildest behavior. I’m all for being real, but I’m amazed every time I read that someone got fired from their job because of their MySpace profile. The things people put on their sites astound me. The crazy pictures, rants, whatever. If you wouldn’t happily show off those pictures or spout your opinion in your office, why do it online in a public forum? There isn’t much of anything I’ve done or said online that I regret. I like to think I’m pretty open and real online, but there are plenty of things I simply don’t share. I save the truly personal subjects for Christy, my wife. I see that line crossed with social networking sites constantly. It’s an unnecessary risk.

Approximately how many contacts do you have via social networking (including friends, colleagues, families, etc.)?
300-400

Questions Regarding Teen Use

What types of rules do you have to control your teen’s use of social networking websites?
My home. My electricity. My computer. As a parent, that means my son must share his MySpace password with us. In theory, we can access his account at all time. In actuality, we respect his privacy and would only access his account if we became concerned about his behavior.

During the school week, our son is only allowed on MySpace during a specific time of the day. We set aside an hour of “free time” during the evening. This is a privilege, not a right, and is only granted if homework, chores, etc. have already been completed. Those rules are a bit looser on the weekend, however the computer is password protected, so permission still have to be given.

How often does your teen use social networking sites?
Daily.

What social networking sites does your teen use?
MySpace only.

Have you ever had any problems with your teen using social networking sites? If so, please provide brief explanation.
At one time, our son had unlimited access to his MySpace page. He was on edge and constantly snapping at us. We all know middle school is all about drama and stress. We quickly learned that MySpace caused the drama and stress to come home. There was no escape. Now that we only allow computer access for an hour each night, our home is a much happier and calmer place.

Do you have any advice to give parents who are interested in social networking?
Keep a close eye on your kids. You don’t have to snoop, but you should see how they’re presenting themselves to the world. This is a learning experience for them, and they don’t yet have the capacity to understand. As parents, we should. We feel that language should be respectful, even in private messages. If you wouldn’t say this or do this in class, why would you say it or do it on MySpace? Who knows which friends’ parents or classmates might be looking at your page. All of this can lead to an unfair (or fair) assessment of your kid by another parent or friends of friends.

Do you have any advice for parents who may not be familiar with social networking sites but whose teens are using them?
Become familiar right now. Join them, dive in, and learn how they work. Talking to your kids based on what you see on the news or read is going to seem incredibly silly and uninformed. So you have to get involved yourself and learn them so you have real experience to go off of.

General Questions Regarding Social Networking Sites

What social networking websites would you suggest for beginners?
Facebook. It seems like just about everyone is on it, and there will be plenty of real world friends you can connect with right away to help you get started. If you’re in Reno, check out Reno Baby! (renonv.ning.com). It’s a very mellow place where people talk about events, favorite bars and restaurants, political issues, etc., and it’s all local. We even have a city council person on there and some other local politicians—and they respond! Between those two places, you can learn a lot.

What are some social networking sites for teenagers?
Many teens are jumping into Facebook, but I think MySpace is still king.

What is your favorite social networking site? (If you have more than one, please list them all.)
I’m most active on Twitter. I like the short, easy to read snippets and links to other places. But my first love in this area, and what might always hold a very soft spot is blogging. It’s the first one I got involved with, and I still think it’s the most meaningful. People put down very thoughtful things, post their favorite photos, etc., and with it being such a personal space, it tends to come off as the most genuine to me.

Is there anything else? Any more advice you have?
When this generation gets older, I would be willing to bet that they’ll wind up deleting the stuff they did as kids and replace it with more adult versions of themselves. So if you’re a parent trying to decide whether it’s important to let your kid use these sites, I would say go with your gut. It’s unnecessary for them at this point, and they do some dumb things with themselves, so act accordingly and pay attention.

Ryan JerzRyan Jerz is an all-around good guy who wants people to eventually refer to him as "that dude who climbs mountains."

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