There has been a some debate over whether schools should be allowed to demand that students hand over their social media passwords. Shannan at Tween Us wrote an excellent post clarifying Illinois laws about school access to passwords. You should read it here. I echo Shannan's concerns about school access to student passwords. I also have a more personal reason for why I am against such access: I will not ask for my children’s social media passwords, so I don’t want a school doing that either.
The idea behind schools asking for student social media passwords is that it will prevent cyberbullying or will at least allow it to be identified before anything gets too out of hand. I agree that cyberbullying is a problem, but I do not believe that forcing students to turn over their passwords without due process is an effective or appropriate way to thwart it.
There are certain things I will do to monitor my children’s use of social media, for example:
- Have them use devices in a communal space.
- Not allow devices in bedrooms at night.
- Periodically check my children’s friends list and ask how they know these people in real life.
But I draw the line at asking for passwords. Here are three reasons I will not ask for my children's social media passwords.
1. Asking for passwords to certain social media sites or apps will only push kids to other sites and apps
If you haven’t heard of those last three it’s because I made them up, but with the speed at which new social media sites pop up they could easily be legitimate. If parents and school administrators start monitoring one social network kids will inevitably go to another.
Collecting passwords gives a false sense of security, and it could actually make matters worse by pushing potentially inappropriate communication to more and more obscure corners of the Internet where threats won't just come from other kids.
Even if you can block or monitor all commercial social media channels with so many kids learning to code they can just start writing their own social media platforms. If they are smart they’ll call their secret communication channels something that most parents will have no interest in looking at: Math Homework.
2. Asking children to share their passwords teaches them bad computer security habits
In information security awareness programs I try to teach adults that they should never tell anyone their password. Ever.
Unfortunately, people still get tricked by social engineering phone calls and phishing emails. Sometimes the bad guys will even reference the rule pretending to be a tech support person and saying, “I know we tell you not to share your passwords, but…[insert persuasive fiction here].”
Asking my children for their passwords teaches them that they shouldn’t share their passwords except for when someone tells them they should. That’s the same perceived paradox that allows adults to be tricked into handing over their passwords to criminals.
There are few universal rules in this world, but a couple I would like to ingrain in my children are
- Always use your seat belt, and
- Never share your passwords.
Besides, if I've taught my children well they'll be using two-factor authentication, which will make knowing their passwords a lot less useful anyway.
3. Humans need privacy, even children
Yes, cyberbullying happens on social media, but that’s not the majority of what kids do on social media. Most kids of the time on social media kids chat about tv shows and music. They share crushes and silly jokes. They complain about teachers and, yes, parents.
Kids on social media are mostly just being kids, and they should have the opportunity to do that.
No one should feel that everything they are doing is being monitored, particularly when they haven't done anything wrong. I do not want my children to be raised in a panopticon, particularly not one that I have built.
To learn independence and develop as human beings children need to feel trusted and need to have space to be themselves. Asking for their social media passwords goes against that.
Those of you who know me or who read this blog regularly may realize that my children are four and six and don't yet have social media accounts. You may be thinking, "Just you wait until your kids are tweens! You'll think differently then."
If there is one thing I've learned about parenting it is to never say never. Still, I hope that I will never feel the need spy on my children, and I really hope that their schools won't feel the need to do so on my behalf.
If your children use social media I highly recommend Tween Us's series of practical and reasonable posts on online safety including guides to popular social media sites, the full series of posts is here.
- Cyberbullying is awful, that doesn't mean schools should demand social media passwords [via Tween Us]
- Should parents use NSA surveillance techniques to spy on their kids?
- Learning to code is not the new literacy
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