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Introducing Your Children to Social Media, the Expert's View

"I gave my kids access to email at relatively young ages. I wanted them to learn while they still listened to me."
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A general view of social networking apps on an iPhone.
A general view of social networking apps on an iPhone.

Chuck Tanowitz, a principal in the public relations agency Fresh Ground, is one of the brightest social media people I know, hands down. Chuck is also the father of three young kids and has a progressive strategy for weaving social media into his family's life.

Tony Loftis: What are some of the key things that you can tell parents of teenagers who probably want to pay more attention what their child is doing online and understand more about social media?

Chuck Tanowitz: At this point, I'm hoping that a lot of parents aren't just getting started. I have a 14-year-old son. I'm friends with him on Facebook. I watch everything that he posts on Facebook, and I give him feedback on it over dinner. You know, "I don't why you put this up." Or "I'm curious what you thought about this." "Do you like this?" So, I'm having conversations with him. He is not a communicative guy, but I am trying to keep tabs on what he's doing.

I'm also a firm believer in teaching your kids very young about how to use various technology tools. This is a little controversial, but I gave my kids access to email at relatively young ages. I wanted them to learn while they still listened to me. Once your kids are teenagers, they're apt to not want to listen to you. That is a very basic truth of parenting. But, when they're 6, 7, 8 years old, they're very willing to listen to you and they're very willing to listen to your advice and follow your direction and you can set up some good habits that way.

TL: Can you give me an example?

Chuck Tanowitz: We used email so my daughter could easily communicate with her grandparents. We monitor what they do online, so when we see activities that we don't like, we can nip those in the bud early before they become habits. That's the hope and goal. You know, we're still in unchartered territory.

I tell them, "I have access to your email. I am going to read it. You know that I'm going to read it." These are things that my kids know and they don't balk at. They don't push against it, because it's simply ingrained from moment one.

TL: More and more people are getting kids to start using appropriate social media tools at younger ages precisely for the reason that you said. As soon as you set up the expectation that you're going to monitor what they do, they're not surprised when they're 14 and 15 and you're paying close attention to what they're doing on Facebook as opposed to starting at 13-years-old and saying, "Well, I'm going to monitor everything you do online," when you haven't done so to date.

Chuck Tanowitz: Well, actually you know one of the ways that I interact with my young kids is with electronic tools and while my wife balks at it, I'm finding it surprisingly effective, I play the same video games that they do if I can.

I play Portal, and I'm asking the kids' advice on playing Portal, and they love that I was playing Portal, and they talk with me about it.

TL: How do kids look at or use social media differently than we do?

Chuck Tanowitz: I had a call yesterday with a person who works with one of our partners, and I used Google Hangout to do that call. And he's never tried Google Hangout before. I said, you know, "My daughter and her friends do Google Hangout all the time, and she'll have nine people lined up and they're all having a conversation." My son uses Skype and Minecraft at the same time and is constantly communicating in ways that blow us away, but are so natural for him and his friends. To them, it's just another conversation. That's something that kids are comfortable with and parents aren't. You have to be aware of that that the conversations you hear around you in the house, verbal or written, are happening constantly, and it's not a question of when they turn the computer on and when they turn the computer off. It's simply a constant conversation that's going on as far as they're concerned.