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LinkedIn opens up to 14-year-olds: Professional networking for pubescents?

The popular professional networking site LinkedIn is opening up its pages to 14-year-olds in Canada.

That's right. And you thought your inbox was already packed with LinkedIn requests from people you've never heard of before, all wanting to be a connection and to endorse you for certain skills - a feature I've always thought truly only serves to boost one's self confidence -- and leaves you feeling guilty if you don't return the favour.

Earlier this week, Eric Heath, LinkedIn's director of legal, global privacy and public policy, announced that the site is updating its user agreement to make LinkedIn available to students 13 years and older, depending on regulations in which country they live in.

Canadian, Spanish, German, South Korean, Australian and American kids do not make the 13-year-old LinkedIn cut and have to wait till they are 14 in order to sign up. The kids in the Netherlands must wait until they are 16. The Chinese 18. In all other countries, 13 is just fine.

In the words of Heath: "Smart, ambitious students are already thinking about their futures when they step foot into high school – where they want to go to college, what they want to study, where they want to live and work. We want to encourage these students to leverage the insights and connections of the millions of successful professionals on LinkedIn, so they can make the most informed decisions and start their careers off right."

How times change. When I was 14, all I cared about was why my mother wouldn't let me dye my hair pink, Duran Duran and how to get out of doing my math homework. I was not obsessing about who I could connect with in the business world, which university I would attend or what my future career path would be.

A LinkedIn profile for teens will be built with numerous safety caveats to protect them from online predators but the site also encourages teens talk to their parents about the "value of knowing their audience."

As everything we post in the digital world remains in cyberspace for an eternity, LinkedIn reminds teens they are using a "professional platform" that must be used in a "professional manner."

"Making a good impression is extremely important, since future hiring managers, employers, and coworkers may see their profile or anything they post," the site reads.

 Right. How many 14-year-old boys are going to post something on their LinkedIn resume that is completely inappropriate and will stay with them forever? Will "champion farter" be a career plus or minus? What about couch surfing?

Parents better be watching their offspring's use of the site. The Telegraph newspaper reported Friday LinkedIn has a large variety of escort companions registered. Writes Theo Merz on his blog: "Log on to a social network 'for professionals' and you can meet Emma, the self-employed escort and travel companion from London; or Matt, who offers “gay male sensual erotic massage” in New York ... This is not a specialist ‘pay-for-play’ listings site, but rather LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional networking platform."

Merz adds LinkedIn does not allow prostitutes and escorts to have profile pages. But as we all know, sometimes rules can be skirted. Especially by tech-savvy teens.

Tanya Talaga is the Star's global economics reporter. Follow her on Twitter @tanyatalaga





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Why not? Staying connected to the people you went to high school with is a smart idea. You never know where your next opportunity will come from.

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