Why the professional networking can wait
LinkedIn’s decision to lower the minimum membership age in Canada from 18 to 14 takes the competitive atmosphere of the youth job market to a whole new level. The professional networking website announced Monday that teens can start joining as of Sept. 12.
This occurred in conjunction with the launch of University Pages, kind of like Company Pages, that are aimed at helping high school students connect with university administrators and alumni.
This is all fine, except that 14-year-olds shouldn’t have to stress about LinkedIn. Our formative years should be a time of self discovery. We should be able to experiment, make mistakes and learn from them, lose our footing and find our way back again. We certainly shouldn’t have to worry about career prospects so early in life.
With social networking flourishing, teens don’t think twice before jumping on the latest bandwagon. They should. If Facebook can make young adults unhappy with their social lives, LinkedIn has the potential to make this same cohort feel inferior about their career advancements—or the lack thereof, which will be the case for most 14-year-olds who have very limited work opportunities.
The thing is, our characters are only half-developed in our teens and it takes more than school and internships to help us grow. Joining the rat race before we’re ready could take a serious toll on our well-being and negatively affect how we view the world. Instead of LinkedIn, teens should focus on cultivating meaningful relationships and traveling, whether to nearby historical towns or Europe.
At age 14, I was writing about boys, golden retrievers and tennis lessons in my diary. I volunteered at summer camps and animal shelters. And I read—a lot. These were not a means to an end, but rather, an end in itself—to find out what I enjoyed. They shaped the person I am now. If I had worried about finding jobs that made me look good on LinkedIn, I might have missed out.
I didn’t open a LinkedIn account until last year when graduating from the University of British Columbia with the threat of unemployment looming large. (Or maybe it was the nonstop invitations in my inbox?) In any case, I joined in the hopes of building a professional network. At 21, I was ready for that. I had served on several campus club executive boards, worked on political campaigns and participated in countless conferences and seminars. I was ready for my first internship, and got one.
Would I have been able to rise to that challenge at age 14? Probably not.
I understand that the world teens inhabit is increasingly connected, complex, and competitive, but if getting ahead means growing up before your time, I don’t think it’s worth it.