Sharing Passwords Is the New Teen Sex

Remember back in the innocent time before computers and smartphones, when teenagers were all about swapping handwritten notes and bodily fluids? Well, things have changed considerably in this era of heavy teching, and now the youth are finding new and horrifyingly sad ways to connect—like swapping passwords with their boyfriends.

Thankfully, the New York Times is here to give us a rundown of how the habit of password sharing, like free love before it, is messing with their minds and endangering our future:

It has become fashionable for young people to express their affection for each other by sharing their passwords to e-mail, Facebook and other accounts. Boyfriends and girlfriends sometimes even create identical passwords, and let each other read their private e-mails and texts.

Scandal! As anyone who's ever swapped passwords knows, it's a deeply personal act. If things go bad, suddenly you're totally exposed—and the person with whom you shared can now broadcast all of your deepest, darkest digital secrets to pretty much the entire world. But it is that very thing that also makes giving someone your password so special. Tiffany Carandang, a senior in high school, explains what sharing her password with her bf means to her:

It's a sign of trust. I have nothing to hide from him, and he has nothing to hide from me.

Oh, baby, I love you so much I want you to be able to read all of my spam. I want you to know the same joy I feel when I look at my Facebook page and see that it's my cousin's birthday! But, seriously, it is kind of a big deal, and, in the words of Billy Joel, it's a matter of trust. Tiffany says she does trust her boyfriend, and that is why she's confident "he'd never do anything to hurt my reputation." Oh, yes, high school boyfriends are known for never doing anything terrible or stupid, so there is no way it could end badly.

Of course, no matter how much you trust the person at the beginning, password sharing can lead to all manner of horrors:

The stories of fallout include a spurned boyfriend in junior high who tries to humiliate his ex-girlfriend by spreading her e-mail secrets; tensions between significant others over scouring each other's private messages for clues of disloyalty or infidelity; or grabbing a cellphone from a former best friend, unlocking it with a password and sending threatening texts to someone else.

Eeesh. So with consequences like that, why do kids do this at all? For the same reason teenagers do most anything, for the thrill. In fact, Rosalind Wiseman, an expert on teen technology use, likens password sharing to having sex. On one level that is ridiculous because, well, sex is sex, and password sharing is typing a sequence of letters and numbers. But on another level, the comparison is sadly apt: they're both forbidden, frowned upon by adults, and make you feel vulnerable. Oh, and there's even peer pressure to do them both!

So how many teens are actually engaging in pre-marital password sharing? Well, a 2011 Pew survey found that "30 percent of teenagers who were regularly online had shared a password with a friend, boyfriend or girlfriend." Also, girls were twice as likely to share theirs as boys were. That's a lot of passwords being thrown around, and it's probably only going to become ever more popular. In the words of Patti Cole, a child psychologist whose daughter had a password-sharing incident,

What worries me is we haven't done a very good job at stopping kids from having sex. So I'm not real confident about how much we can change this behavior.

Indeed. The times, they are a-changin', and the same should be true of your password. Why? Because I said so, young lady. Now go to your room!

Young, in Love and Sharing Everything, Including a Password [New York Times]

Image by Jim Cooke.