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LinkedIn wants to be teens’ social networking partypooper

Tue, 08/27/2013 - 11:14am
Chris Warner, Executive Editor

Chris WarnerThere’s an old saying, often attributed to George Bernard Shaw, that youth is wasted on the young. Thanks to LinkedIn’s decision to lower its age requirement, that saying may soon be halved to “youth is wasted.”

Starting September 12, LinkedIn’s minimum age will be 14 in the U.S., presumably to coincide with the social networking site’s new University Pages. So far, the online opinions I’ve seen offer a mixed reaction. One positive line of thinking is that allowing teens to use LinkedIn will somehow indoctrinate them to the seriousness of using social networking tools and separate the important (LinkedIn) from the frivolous (ex. Facebook) and getting them to post updates more responsibly. Another is that it will get teens to think about (and evaluate) colleges early, instilling more ambition.

For LinkedIn, the benefits are obvious: a bigger audience to gain advertisers and Wall Street approval. And, it’s always a good idea to serve the youth and form habits that will keep them coming back as they get older.

While investors and parents who insist their children have their careers mapped out before puberty are applauding, I am saddened for the youth themselves. Adult expectations have been creeping into the teenage world in recent years. There’s advanced placement courses, pressure to score high on standardized tests, the high emphasis of extra-curricular activities in the college application process, a growing drumbeat for year-round school and for some, academic camps in the summer. That’s in addition to homework overload and its cousin, backpack overload. Even youth sports are moving from the local park-based rec league, where everyone had fun, to an environment where making the “traveling” team and getting onto the fast track to college – and professional – athletics is the endgame. And coming soon to colleges: the CLA + post-college assessment test which will no doubt spawn a whole new industry of “preparation” products so students can spend even more money that they don’t have.

Now, we’re foisting another expectation on our youth to satisfy the very corporate and very adult ulterior motive of commoditizing them and their ambitions. Their career path is the means to the end. It’s now time to add t all the above pressures the expectation of building up a network of adults  – such as filling it with college decision-makers, alumni, or to make contacts in a field that they’re presumably interested in but are still many years away from entering. And then they’ll share in the joys of posting some article or another to demonstrate to their network how “with it” they are of their newfound career’s trends.

It may be easy to dismiss a teenage LinkedIn profile as just another learning environment – a “valuable resource.” But what’s the harm in that? Only the most ambitious teens will set up a profile, right? But all it takes is a couple of Ivy League or prestigious engineering schools to measure prospective students by the robustness of their LinkedIn profile, and then the tipping point will quickly follow in which all colleges and universities will add the LinkedIn profile to their criteria. LinkedIn will be nearly mandatory for teens (And LinkedIn would prefer they be the “must” social network for teens rather than some other network). That’s where my sadness lies: There certainly is a place for teens on LinkedIn, but it will likely be a de facto standard for the college-bound and a very captive audience.

Finally, for some teens, LinkedIn could bring disillusionment at an already difficult time in their lives when they’re struggling with their confidence. LinkedIn and members of my LinkedIn network routinely recommend articles about all the office politics, toxic bosses, constant danger of an outdated skillset, and the dubious hiring practices that will all be awaiting teens when they graduate and enter the corporate world. For an impressionable teen, these would appear to be invitations to be antisocial and less ambitious.

I can’t imagine teenagers clamoring for another measuring stick to satisfy the world’s adults. They want and deserve the time and space to explore their world without pressure. Perhaps a teenage pastime that would be taboo on a professional profile may lead them to a career doing something they love. But would it be less important than building a professional network in high school? Teenagers should find themselves at their own pace with the freedom to try new things – or not try new things. But the adults in the room, with their adult motives, see that as wasted youth. And they just can’t let a good commodity go to waste.

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