Here’s why you should check your kid’s passwords

·3-min read

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A new study of 1,800 students found that kids often use ineffective passwords. (Photo: Getty)
A new study of 1,800 students found that kids often use ineffective passwords. (Photo: Getty)

Although many kids today are tech-savvy, they still face the same cybersecurity threats as adults.

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently conducted a study on the password habits and behaviors of kids in 3rd to 12th grade. Researchers found that children do follow some best practices, including memorizing their passwords instead of writing them down. But the study also found that sometimes their behavior appears to be at odds with their knowledge.

The data was collected from more than 1,500 kids aged 8 to 18, who attend schools across the South, Midwest, and Eastern areas of the U.S. What the survey results found was concerning: Children routinely chose easier-to-guess passwords that "referenced sports, video games, names, animals, movies, titles (such as 'princess'), numbers and colors."

Password strength improved somewhat for teens, the study found. For example, middle and high school students tended to choose longer passwords, such as “Aiken_bacon@28," though not all were technically secure.

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On the whole, kids understand the importance of creating passwords. (Photo: Getty)
On the whole, kids understand the importance of creating passwords. (Photo: Getty)

In the study, kids were also asked what they thought about passwords. The researchers found that elementary school students understood passwords are put in place for their online security. Younger kids also trusted their families to both create and maintain their passwords — which, in its own way, is a vote of confidence for parents.

Middle and high school students focused more on the fact that passwords meant privacy — which makes sense, as middle and high school students become more independent from their parents. But they also had some poor password habits, such as sharing their passwords with friends. “For adolescents, an important part of building friendships is building trust, which is shown with sharing secrets,” wrote NIST researcher Yee-Yin Choong. "Their perspective is that sharing passwords is not risky behavior."

Parents and adult caregivers can model good password habits for kids. (Photo: Getty)
Parents and adult caregivers can model good password habits for kids. (Photo: Getty)

How to teach kids to stay safe online

Tpp #1: Be honest with them

Talk to your children about why using easy-to-guess passwords isn't safe and explain what makes a password more secure. Encourage your kids to avoid reusing common words such as birthdays, pet names, and favorite foods since those can be easily guessed.

Tip #2: Teach kids to recognize good password hygiene

Kids need to know what constitutes proper internet etiquette. For example, never share your password information or send it to someone in an email or text. Make sure your child knows the rules apply whether you're talking about close friends or classmates. Model good password behavior by using a password manager. (No more writing passwords on sticky notes!) A password manager like LastPass Premium keeps your family's sensitive information private, while allowing you to safely and securely share passwords when necessary.

Try LastPass Premium, part of Yahoo Plus Secure, risk-free for 30 days.

A password manager can help your children practice good cyber habits. (Photo: Getty)
A password manager can help your children practice good cyber habits. (Photo: Getty)

LastPass Premium is a good tool for keeping track of your passwords. You can set up multiple users so each person has his or her own unique login credentials. This means no one else will be able to access your personal information without your permission.

Tip #3: Don't try to take total control of your teen's passwords

Doing so doesn't make your teen safer online. Kids know it's a cinch to change passwords, create a new account you don't know about, or simply block you from ever seeing anything he or she posts. Instead, work together to make sure your kids develop their own sense of responsibility and try not to have a parent-versus-child dynamic. Have regular check-ins, review their password setting procedures, and encourage them to use a password manager like LastPass. The software allows families to generate and store passwords more securely while automatically keeping track of any potential data breaches.

Try LastPass Premium, part of Yahoo Plus Secure, risk-free for 30 days.

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