Written by Christian Tynan-Wood 

When it comes to teenagers and social media, most parents worry. Are the kids posting too much information? Are they being approached there by creepy strangers? Is that photo too risque? Is that a cry for help or just more song lyrics? Rarely do we suggest that our teens join a social network and start befriending adults. But at a certain point in a teenager’s life, I think you need to do just that.

A positive, professional social media presence -- one that highlights your teen's accomplishments, internships, and interests -- makes it easy for colleges and future employers to get a sense of who a teen is, why she stands out from the pack, and why he would make a great fit for that school or workplace. But more importantly the online profiles and connections of the adults in their lives, can show your teen what a career looks like, the path those people took to achieve those careers, and what they actually do every day at work. “This allows kids to dream big,” says John Hill, Higher Education Evangelist for LinkedIn of the access teenagers have to detailed career information on LinkedIn. “And high school is a great time to do just that. Teenagers can see people who succeeded and how they got there.”

To this end, LinkedIn recently opened up the site to teenagers fourteen and up in the U.S. And Hill suggest that parents – and other family members – invite teens into their profiles and act as mentors there to show teens how adults network, how to create a positive online brand, and how to make connections that can advance goals. And if your teen is shopping for colleges, be sure and check out the university pages that allow them to learn about schools, connect with them, and get a real sense of what a school they are considering is like -- without the cost of visit. Invite them into your network, let them see how professional interactions happen, encourage them to research careers they would like to emulate, or even just see what a career is and what people do to promote their own work.

I love this idea. When I was a teenager this sort of information was very difficult to come by. I had to take the word of parents and teachers and scan the help-wanted ads in the paper. No one I knew shared my own aspirations, though, so it was very difficult to get any real information about how to follow my dream. I was pretty much on my own. My kids will have access to so much more information.

If you are still worrying – of course you are; that’s a parent’s middle name – read up on LinkedIn’s safety tips, start your kids off at the Teen Center, and study up on the privacy settings that LinkedIn automatically applies to a teenager’s profile.

Social media takes a lot of heat when it comes to teenagers. But more than 238 million adults use social media (on LinkedIn alone) to find work, promote their careers, and reach out to employees. It’s not all bad. Maybe it’s time to teach the kids what’s good about these tools?

Christina Tynan-Wood has been covering technology since the dawn of the Internet and currently writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle. You can find more advice about buying and using technology at GeekGirlfriends.com.