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January 18, 2012


Teens, old married couples, and sharing passwords

Happy password-sharing teenage girl

There's a front-page story in today's Times about teenagers who demonstrate their love for each other by sharing their email and Facebook passwords, such as the smiling Alexandra Radford, above. Alexandra and her high school boyfriend changed their email passwords to "ILoveKevin" and "ILoveAly" while they were dating, but she admits, “We did it so I could check his messages because I didn't trust him, which is not healthy.” No kidding.

The readers' comments offer a lot of predictable finger-wagging about how naive and silly it is to give your 17 year-old boyfriend free access to your email and the difficulty kids these days seem to have grasping any sense of privacy or boundaries. One comment points out the clever way a young person might share their passwords with their friends and still maintain privacy: have multiple email accounts.

This sensible advice reminded me of my parents, and their one email account which they share. I suspect I'm not alone in this. Even though they could create as many free email accounts as they want, and though they regularly use their shared account to communicate secret birthday present ideas for each other and things that the other one isn't supposed to read, my parents seem to feel that having one shared email address is like having one bank account--it's just what you do when you're married. My brother gently pointed out during a weirdly pretend-private email conversation about Christmas present planning: having separate email accounts doesn't mean you love each other any less.

The high school kids in the Times article are essentially demonstrating the same boundary-free devotion to each other as a couple that's been married for 43 years, which suggests a worrisome misjudgement of the stability and trustworthiness of teenage relationships. But it's interesting to me that no one I know in my generation would share their main email account with a boyfriend, or give their girlfriend their email password. Optimistically, that might be because we might find more meaningful ways to express closeness and trust, or more cynically, maybe we're jaded enough to know password sharing is a guaranteed relationship catastrophe.

Teenagers and our parents: sharing the struggle to understand how email works.

categories: Culture, Technology
posted by amy at 12:19 PM | #

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