Recently, while giving a presentation on "Digital Literacy" to a group of K-8 parents, I shared some interesting data from a Pew Internet & American Life Project report regarding kids and their online passwords. In this study Pew found that 30 percent of 12-17 year olds who were regularly online had shared a password with a friend, boyfriend or girlfriend, and that almost half of those 14-17 do the same. In fact, in more than two dozen interviews, parents, students and counselors said that the practice had become widespread.
When a parent in the room asked me why kids share their passwords, I couldn’t give them a good reason. So I decided to take this question directly to the students in my 8th grade Cyber Civics class.
Their response? Simply this: they like to share. Remember, this is a generation who has grown up immersed in an online world where the ethos of community, collaboration, and networking is the norm. Here are three examples from their online world:
- Wikipedia: The free online encyclopedia that everyone can edit and use.
- Instagram: The online photo and social networking site that also lets users share what they upload with friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter.
- Flickr: the online photo-sharing website where everyone can upload and view one another’s photos.
The other reason kids like to share their passwords, according to this 8th grade class, is because passwords are hard to remember, so it helps to have a friend who can help remember them for you.
This second reason provided an opportunity to use a terrific lesson that gives kids a strategy for making and remembering passwords. This lesson (albeit a bit tweaked) comes from Common Sense Media’s Digital Literacy and Citizenship free curriculum.
For this lesson every student received a slip of paper with the name of a famous person on it (an actor, musician, political or historical figure). Their task was to create password using that person as a mnemonic device while also following five simple rules (parents take note, these rules are for you too!). Every password should:
- Include upper and lowercase letters.
- Include numbers and symbols.
- Be at least eight characters in length.
- Contain no personal information.
- Use no words found in the dictionary.
Kids love challenges like this one and these students came up with some really creative and funny passwords. But the best part was the follow-up activity: every student wrote his or her password on the board, then the entire class tried to guess the person behind each password by playing a “Charades”-like guessing game.
Here’s an example of one of their passwords:
In case you can’t figure it out… the mnemonic device for this password is the singer, Adele. It includes the first initials of her well-known song “Set Fire to the Rain”, she is 24 years old, from the UK, and she rocks (!!).
You get the idea.
While it’s always a good idea to remind kids about the potential downsides to sharing passwords with others (i.e., friends might post unwanted information or photos onto their social networking sites), it’s also smart to equip them with practical tools that will keep them safe online.
It also doesn’t hurt to have a little fun at the same time.