According to a 2016 Cyber Security Insights Report commissioned by Norton, 76% of people willingly share their passwords with others.
Most adults are likely to understand the risks involved with sharing secure information such as passwords, but young people don’t always critically evaluate their decisions before making them. In order to help protect your child’s online privacy, you should talk to them about the risk of sharing passwords.
What are the risks of sharing passwords?
It’s an admirable quality of young children that they are inherently trusting of others. However, being so trusting can place children in vulnerable positions. For example, a child might feel they can trust a friend with their password for a social networking site. This friend could then decide to log into that person’s account, pretend to be them, and post something embarrassing. While this may very well be intended as a joke, it could be upsetting for the other child.
Young people who commit harmful acts or participate in risk-taking behaviours often overlook the potential consequences of their actions: both for themselves and for others involved. In fact, it can take until a person is in their mid-twenties for their frontal lobe to fully develop. The frontal lobe is the part of the human brain that helps with things such as risk evaluation, emotional expression and problem solving. In the time before it fully develops, children tend to act more on impulse, which means they may inadvertently harm or humiliate others. While they may not intend to hurt their friend’s feelings, there is sometimes a big difference between intent and impact.
Talking to your child about the risk of sharing passwords
While it’s not necessarily fair to tell children not to trust their friends, it’s important to let them know that some information is best to keep private. That being said, simply prohibiting it may not have the desired effect, as it can create a forbidden fruit appeal. “Sharing passwords” notes famous author, Rosalind Wiseman, “feels forbidden because it is generally discouraged by adults and involves vulnerability.”
As Rosalind touches on, when we try to prohibit certain behaviours too strongly it can end up having the reverse effect. Teens can be stubborn, and when you tell them that a person they trust may turn around and do something to hurt them, it’s quite possible they won’t like hearing it and will remain adamant that you’re wrong.
Therefore, a more effective approach can be to simply shed light on the potential risks and negotiate some middle ground. For example, you may consider sharing some stories from people whose password sharing experience led to humiliation or harm. This article by The New York Times contains detailed accounts from people who have experienced first hand the risks of sharing passwords.
Here are other things you may consider:
Tell your children to ensure that they don’t use the same password for everything. They might decide it’s okay to tell a friend the password to unlock their laptop, but if that’s the same password they use for email, banking, and social media, then their friend will have access a whole range of their private information.
Discuss the fact that “the use of strong passwords is essential in order to protect security and identity. Even the best security in the world is useless if a malicious person has your legitimate username and password”. 
Encourage them to change their passwords regularly. Help them stick to it by setting a reminder in your calendar.
To learn more about what can happen when someone gains access to your child’s private information, read our article on Identity Theft.
References on the risk of sharing passwords:
Get Safe Online, 2018. Protecting yourself: Passwords. https://www.getsafeonline.org/protecting-yourself/passwords/
Rosalind Wiseman, 2012. Young, in Love and Sharing Everything, Including a Password. https://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/18/us/teenagers-sharing-passwords-as-show-of-affection.html
- Norton, 2016. The 5 cyber safety tips every parent should know. https://au.norton.com/internetsecurity-kids-safety-5-cybersafety-tips-every-parent-should-know.html