What Else Kids Give Away When They Share Their Personal Passwords

Tweens and teens share clothes, secrets, and homework notes but there’s something else your kids may be sharing that isn’t so wise — their passwords.

Password sharing has become a symbol of trust between friends and a sign of intimacy between significant others so much so that most teens aspire to password sharing as “relationship goals.”

Ask the dozen oft-surveyed teens in my world, and they happily explain that password sharing is “no big deal,” “fun,” and “what friends do.” Sharing also “proves to people you trust them” and is “the best way to keep tabs” on a significant other. 

But before you cringe at this seemingly naive behavior, wait. A recent survey World Password Day from McAfee, reveals that 59% of people surveyed are comfortable sharing their passwords with other people. People share passwords with spouse/partner (37%), family (23%), parents (23%) and even friends (9%) and colleagues (5%). The survey, which canvassed 3,000 people ages 18 and over, also exposes that 34% re-use the same or similar passwords on multiple accounts and that most people keep track of their passwords by writing them down and keeping them somewhere safe (37%). Another study from Pew Institute echoes these recent findings stating that 67% of Internet users in marriages or relationships have shared passwords with one or more of their accounts with their partner.

But is sharing your password such a good idea? Arguments exist on either side.

Obvious reasons emerge in the headlines each week to remind us why we shouldn’t share passwords. The heartbreak publically plays out in betrayal, revenge, cruel jokes, reputation damage, financial and identity theft, and, sadly even sextortion.

There are also the larger reasons for not sharing passwords that likely aren’t even on your child’s radar such as guarding the value and power of personal privacy and boundaries.

Family Talking Points

Boundaries matter. Keeping personal passwords private helps kids exercise healthy boundaries. Not all personal things need to be shared in a relationship, no matter how close two people may be. Maintaining independence in any relationship is a good thing. In the best-selling book Boundaries, Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend define a boundary as “a personal property line that marks those things for which we are responsible. In other words, boundaries define who we are and who we are not.”

Establishing boundaries helps children (and adults) understand and take responsibility for the things over which they have control. The boundaries we draw (such as privacy) begin to define us and what we believe about our values and standards. By forfeiting boundaries around the issue of privacy, kids can develop destructive behavior patterns in relationships.

Privacy is honoring. Allowing friends and significant others to maintain password privacy, honors the personal space and possessions of another person. While kids may believe sharing passwords builds trust, a friend would not require you to give away your privacy to prove the depth of a relationship. Relationships require respect for a person’s material, emotional, and physical boundaries.

Pressure isn’t love. Peer pressure can come in many forms, even requests for a password. A simple request to “hey, I need to Google something, what’s your lock screen password?” can make one person in a relationship vulnerable to material and emotional risks. A friendship or relationship can become bullish, controlling, and one in which the “monitored” party develops a need to please.

People change. As much as kids pledge undying loyalty to one another (“he’d never do anything to hurt my reputation!”), even the strongest bonds can surprisingly break, and the strength of the emotions that follow can be startling. Encourage kids to share some things but not all things, especially anything that can be used against them later. It’s just not wise.

No shortcuts to trust. Websters defines trust as “a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.” To have a firm belief in anything or anyone is a process that takes time and experience. So, it stands to reason, that the act of sharing passwords does not instantly make a relationship trustworthy. In a relationship, a person’s consistent character over time is what builds trust. There are no shortcuts to trust.

Reclaiming privacy. This generation is often defined by the media as the generation that’s willing to share everything online. That opinion does not have to be your child’s reality. If your child (or you) constantly puts others needs first, has trouble saying no, and believes that setting healthy boundaries in a relationship could jeopardize it, then he or she may be a co-dependent person. Co-dependent people don’t honestly feel they have rights because they have given them all away. Slowly, over time, they have moved if not eliminated, their personal boundaries. It’s never too late to change this picture and help your child learn how to establish healthy boundaries. Healthy boundaries include: Having clear opinions and preferences and acting upon them, feeling safe and secure in relationships, being aware of personal choice in relationships, being able to identify manipulative behaviors in others.

Password Reminders. Change your passwords every few months — start today. A strong password has all of the following characteristics:

  • It is at least ten characters in length
  • It doesn’t contain any word or words found in the dictionary
  • It mixes capital and lower-case letters
  • It contains special characters like numbers, punctuation marks, or symbols

Don’t get lazy with your passwords. The most common mistake consumers make is using the same password for all or most online accounts. So do this: Take an hour out of your day and change and document all of your passwords. Once you’ve beefed up your passwords, you can simplify the password process by using True Key multi-factor authentication service (hey — it’s also free)!

Want to have a little fun? McAfee has created the True Key Game to celebrate World Password Day. Share this game with your kids to help them learn more about password security.


A note on boundaries: It may help kids to identify a healthy boundary as an imaginary force field that separates their responsibilities and opinions from those of others. This force field separates what’s theirs and what’s others; what they believe and value and what others believe and value. Imagining this force field more clearly may help kids from feeling guilty for not conforming and free them up from taking negative comments personally.

As tough as it is to witness, your kids will experience heartbreak, betrayal, and broken trust. You can’t stop that. What you can stop is the depth of potential fallout by teaching the priceless value of privacy and keeping passwords under lock and key.



Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @McAfee_Family. (Disclosures).

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