If you're a parent, you want your kids to be successful, and chances are are you wonder (or worry) what they're doing online. Maybe you aren't sure you even know all the social media platforms they use.
So, some good news. A study by the Pew Research Center (pdf) found that the five most popular social media platforms used by American teenagers are the old standbys: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and GooglePlus.
And that means that if your kids start using it at a younger age, even just casually, they can get some great benefits out of it.
Bonus content: For more on how to raise successful kids, you can read my free e-book, How to Raise Successful Kids: Advice From a Stanford Dean, a Navy SEAL Commander, and Mark Zuckerberg's Dad.
I'm not suggesting 5-year-olds should be creating LinkedIn profiles, of course. But if you have kids who are old enough to be thinking seriously about what they want to do "when they grow up," here are some things they should do at least occasionally on LinkedIn.
1. Find virtual mentors.
This is the easiest, and perhaps most important thing to do. Long before kids begin truly thinking about their professional careers, they can start looking in detail at the paths other successful people followed.
If they want to be entrepreneurs, they can study the profiles of successful entrepreneurs. If they want to go into medicine or science, they can study the profiles of successful doctors and scientists. If they want to go into media, or architecture, or sports marketing, or politics, or almost any field, they can find virtual role models.
They'll be surprised at how much information they can find about the schools these people attended, the activities they were involved with, the relationships they developed, and the job paths they followed. And that can give them some smart ideas about where they should start.
2. Develop real-time critical reading skills.
LinkedIn might be the "professional" social network, but people still behave on it the way they do on other social media. Namely, they often try to paint an unrealistic, overly positive image of themselves.
It makes sense, I suppose, since people are using the site to find job opportunities and business deals, and to impress other people. So they inflate their accomplishments--and skip over the 18 months they were unemployed, for example.
All of which makes this another good learning opportunity for young people. Don't just take at face value that an interesting virtual role model is being 100 percent truthful about his or her background. Think through whether the timelines make sense, and do a little Internet sleuthing to verify and fill in the gaps. The experience alone is worth it.
3. Create an account.
The first two suggestions don't require actually creating an account. However, it's likely a good idea for most young people to create one, even if they only fill in bare bones information.
Granted, nobody knows whether LinkedIn will still be a dominant platform in a decade or so, but people have been incorrectly predicting its demise for a long time. But without an account, there's no way for people to reach them (obviously), or for them to make contact with the virtual role models they identify. (More on that in a minute.)
So why not get that vanity URL, at least? For what it's worth, I had https://www.linkedin.com/in/billmurphyjr for a couple of years before I actually used my account for anything. (Which reminds me, my profile needs a good updating.)
4. Ask questions.
Finding virtual role models is great, but of course young people can take things farther than just reading profiles, and actually reach out to the people they find interesting.
You can and should guide them on how to do this: Be polite and concise, ask specific questions that won't take too long to answer, and be sure to follow up and express their thanks. They'll find that people are more willing to respond than they might expect. Plus, they have an advantage: There's nothing more flattering than a young person suggesting that he or she views you as a role model. It's a cold, hard person who doesn't offer at least a cursory reply.
Moreover, since we know that there actually are a lot of cold, hard people in the world, reaching out on LinkedIn gives your kids an opportunity to learn another important lesson. Namely, if you want to succeed in just about anything, you must be willing to try 10, 20, or 100 times or more before you get the response you want.