Yes, we need to talk to kids about passwords and we need to start early. My son is 6 years old now and the other day he impressed one of my friends immensely with the fact that he turned his head away when I was unlocking my iPad to allow him to play his favourite games for a while. I think we need to prepare our kids to the idea of passwords as early as they can understand the notion of privacy and ownership, but before they actually own their own devices or access to the web. Which in the UK would be a 4-5 year old, really.
You might think I am crazy but the more I look around the web the more I see the notion of terrified parents who realised that talking to their kids about accessing their accounts is almost impossible. I teach social media to grown ups and just this week I had a student who once he joined Twitter he has realised his kids are on the service already! So the reality is – kids ARE in social networks; kids WILL use the Internet and actually they will receive their first passwords to computers already in first years of school (my son had it in Year 0).
So how do we talk to kids about password to build respect and trust? I think there are few major points to consider before you start the conversation:
1. Age – pending the age of your child you will need to approach the conversation in the right manner to ensure that your child understands the concept of intimacy, ownership, a safe password and trusts you enough to share theirs with you.
2. Respect – you need to explain to your child that respecting someone’s privacy is a matter of politeness and password is a brilliant test: I keep telling my son that if he wants to be a gentleman he must turn his head away and stop looking while I type my passwords (on mobile devices, on laptop or on the cash machine).
3. Ownership – it’s helpful to introduce the notion of ownership of data and devices as early as possible. If it’s parent’s device do explain why you have the right to lock and unlock it, what are the risks involved in accessing the personal information (explain what is personal information), downloading additional apps and causing larger bills on your account.
4. Parental responsibility – up to a certain age (which I am sure is up for discussion and will depend on your relationship with your child) you, as a parent, have the right, but also responsibility to ensure that your kids are safe and happy. Do explain to them how the notion of bullying can be easily experienced with mobile phones or Internet and how you, as a grown up, have the right to have access to child’s personal information. Whether you exercise this right or not will depend on your relationship with kids, but the rule has to be set in stone and executed.
5. Open communication – explain, explain and again: explain! There is no point in intruding rules if you do not explain their importance. There is no point in banning kids from the web (it’s pointless anyway) if your intention is to have an open communication with them and simply guide them towards sensible independence. Be firm, but also reasonable.
6. Your own competence – now, you and I know that kids grasp innovation and tech much faster than we do, they soak it up and come up with amazing solutions. They are faster and smarter then we are, so if you want to have a respectful relationship with your child on this topic you must teach your kids basic rules of safe passwords yourself. In order to do so, you might have to polish your skills a bit. You will find a good write up here and a discussion on the topic here. I personally really like KeePass and find it a helpful tool, but before you use it do go back to the basics and practice safe passwords on HowSecureIsMyPassword.net.
I hope this is useful and I hope that you will experience the same little feeling of pride when your kid starts respecting your password, shares theirs with you or simply comes over for a chat and asks for help if needed. Do let me know what you are doing to ensure your kids are using safe passwords!