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In one of my previous articles I spoke about how LinkedIn is opening the platform up to younger markets and specifically targeting students. This is a strong strategic move on LinkedIn’s part — but it begs the question as to whether this kind of development is taking away from our youth’s childhoods.
Since 12 September, users as young as 13 have been able to sign up for the world’s largest “professional” network after it lowered its minimum age requirement.
The thinking behind this is to encourage young people to plan out their career paths by comparing themselves to others on the site and getting an early start.
My feelings towards this announcement are twofold; I am in favour of young people starting to think about the future sooner rather than later and starting to get themselves known within the market. However my concern is about whether a 13-year-old is equipped to manage a professional profile on a platform like LinkedIn.
The decreasing of the age restriction coincides with the launch of University Pages, where potential students can learn about universities worldwide and connect with students or alumni to hear about their experiences and future career paths. This I do agree with and feel is very important.
LinkedIn has confirmed that the security settings will be different for users under 18, with their year of birth, surname and specific location hidden and profile picture only visible to their connections. They also won’t appear in search engine results pages.
But how young is too young?
Sure we’d all love to be business savvy and child prodigy like Richie Rich but is this kind of development putting a lot of unnecessary pressure on young people who are having to deal with enough as it is – going through puberty, discovering who they are, etc. Is this not just going make to all of the regular childhood and teenage problems that much greater?
This also opens up the discussion as to whether by allowing children as young as 13 to engage on professional networks, where there are numerous recruiters out there looking to fill intern type positions, are at increased risk of being exploited or taken advantage of. The average 13-year-old doesn’t understand how to negotiate a contract or what is and isn’t expected of them.
Where I feel the gap is, and where LinkedIn can fill it, is when children reach the age of 16 to 18 and start thinking about what subject choices to make, what type of careers they would be interested in, and what universities would be right for them. But at 13 all they’re really concerned about is the latest Bieber hit, pouting and twerking – let’s be honest.
Keep it in the playground
The fact is that being professional and engaging with fellow professionals requires a certain degree of maturity. Which, like it or not, the average 13-year-old doesn’t have.
To date, LinkedIn has had a very strong identity as a professional network. With these latest changes, it could potentially lose its uniqueness and the appeal to their demographic. So if this new age restriction does come into play what does that mean for the professional networker on LinkedIn? Are they going to be flooded with invitations to connect from 13 year olds who add little if any value to their network?
Is there a place for LinkedIn Jnr?
In my opinion if LinkedIn did want to start engaging with this younger audience I feel it would be more appropriate to start a new network, something like LinkedIn Jnr, where children and students under 18 can connect with each other and educators to talk about relevant topics (be it school or sports related) and create an environment where they can really extract value from these conversations. They can then migrate to the professional network once the reach 18.
Advertising from universities or companies offering intern positions could then be targeted better and the messaging could be reworked to appeal to a younger audience. Because quite frankly, at 13 you’re not worried about your RA and whether you future career is going to come with good benefits.
The point is a 13-year-old has a very different mindset to a college graduate, 20-something professional or CEO. They can’t all be lumped into the same network and still expect the platform to extract and deliver value.