Have you given your teens their own sets of house keys yet? If you have, I’ll bet there was a serious conversation when those keys were handed over about ‘being responsible’. About locking the house to keep your family and property safe, keeping the keys in a sensible place, and not giving the keys to anyone else.
As parents, we need to have the same conversation with our teens about their passwords.
A strong password helps protect your identity, banking details, email, social media accounts, photos, videos and much more. But it’s not enough to have passwords; we also have to be smart about how we use them.
What makes a strong password?
Some people use traditional passwords. These should be long – ideally 12 or more characters – and random. The best passwords combine upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols. Try making an acronym from a phrase you can remember, like ‘Yesterday I ate a huge sandwich for my lunch!’, which becomes Yd18aH$w4mL!
However, nowadays many people are using passphrases instead of passwords. Passphrases should contain several random, unpredictable words like ‘red house sky train’. The aim is to create something that you can remember but a machine would find hard to predict.
And avoid the obvious traps! Don’t use your name, birthday, phone number, nickname, or pet’s name. And avoid predictable words like ‘password’ or ‘banking’, or obvious sequences like ‘1234’.
- use a different password or passphrase for every account
- use passcodes for your phones and laptops
- if you need to write passwords down, keep them in a secure place – not in your schoolbag or taped to your computer screen
- consider using two-factor authentication for extra security.
Friendships and passwords
Passwords only work if we keep them to ourselves! Unfortunately, this is something many teens struggle with.
One survey of more than 3,000 young Australians found that 1 in 6 said they had shared their social media or email passwords with someone else during the past year. And experts from the Cyberbullying Research Centre said “we’ve asked hundreds of groups of students if they know any of their friends’ passwords. The majority say ‘yes’ every single time!”
Many teens underestimate the risks of sharing passwords – and as adults, this is partly our fault. We warn our teens about cyber criminals and ‘hackers’, but teens aren’t thinking about those things when they give their password to their best friend, boyfriend, or sister. We also talk about passwords in terms of ‘trust’ – which sends some teens the message that the way to show someone you trust them is to give them your password!
Half of teens who’ve shared their passwords said they shared it with a friend, and a fifth of teens who’ve shared their passwords said they shared it with a brother or sister, or a boyfriend or girlfriend. Young Australians tend to share passwords with other teens because they want the other person’s help with something, or because they want to show the other person something, or simply because they think of the other person as a friend.
Girls aged 12-15 are especially likely to share their passwords with friends, perhaps because close communication with trusted friends is such a big part of the lives of adolescent girls.
It’s important for parents to remind teens that:
- Keeping passwords to yourself doesn’t mean you don’t like the other person. You’re not being ‘mean’ or ‘rude’; you’re just having boundaries.
- You can’t assume your friends will keep your passwords secure. Even good friends can make a mistake or do something silly.
- If someone shows you their password, never use it to hurt them, spy on them, or embarrass them. This is a breach of their trust, and can get you into serious trouble.
- You don’t need to share your passwords in order to show people things or get tasks done.
If your teens are sharing their passwords because they don’t know how else to get things done, there might be a gap in their tech skills. Sit down together and figure out other ways to do the things they want, without giving up their security.
Passwords and bad relationships
As teens explore their first romantic relationships, it’s important parents talk to them about respecting their girlfriends and boyfriends online, as well as face-to-face. This includes respecting their passwords.
Unfortunately, some people use technology to control, frighten or humiliate their partners. This is sometimes called ‘digital dating abuse’, and it happens to teens, too. You might be experiencing digital dating abuse if your partner:
- Demands your passwords
- Spies on you when you’re entering your passwords
- Guesses your passwords or tricks you into giving them up
- Changes your passwords without your permission
- Uses your passwords to:
- Steal from you
- Spy on you
- Lock you out of your accounts
- Post material on your social media
- Get into your devices to install spyware or stalkerware.
If you’re worried about someone who has experienced behaviour like this, call the Dolly’s Dream Support Line on 0488 881 033, or contact 1800 RESPECT. And remind teens that they can get free, confidential counselling from Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800.