A guide to understanding teenage language

A guide to understanding teenage language

When trying to communicate with your teenager, it may sometimes seem as if they're speaking another language – one full of slang words and phrases you’ve never heard of. Our Teenagers’ Language Guide will help you decipher teen slang so you can have better communication with your child.

Teenagers need their own language

Across generations, teenagers have always had their own teen words. What was once 'cool', 'ace' or 'groovy' may now be 'sick' or 'amaze', meaning it can sometimes be hard to understand teenagers (which, of course, is often what they want!).

Using a language particular to your tribe and time is part of developing self-esteem, confidence and a sense of identity and belonging. Teenagers are trying to find their way in the adult world and often feel most comfortable with their peers. Having their own language helps them bond with other teens and build confidence.

Technology and text lingo

Technology is creating new opportunities for language development. Deborah Tannen, linguistics professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and author of You’re Wearing That? Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation, says text speak – or ‘txt spk’ – shows teens are shaping language to suit their needs. We shouldn’t criticise it, but nor do we need to use it to relate to our children.

“You need to use language that’s appropriate to the context, just as you need to dress in a way that’s appropriate to the context,” says Tannen. “Adults look silly when they try to dress like kids. They might sound a little silly trying to talk like kids, too.”

How to talk with teens

Rapidly changing teen slang is a normal part of the growing-up process and something parents should try to accept, says Dove Self-Esteem Project expert Dr Christina Berton. “As your child grows, they will be constantly trying to find ways to define their own personality and mark out their independence,” she explains. “Part of this is about setting themselves apart from their parents – and having a ‘private’ language between them and their friends is one way of doing this.”

This doesn’t mean you have to be excluded, though. As their parent, you need to let them know you’re willing to talk and are interested in what’s going on in their life. Rather than being judgemental, be someone they can look to for wisdom and advice. And make sure the lines of communication are always open.

Do u no txt spk?

Decipher your child’s text lingo with our handy guide:

YOLO = you only live once
TTYL= talk to you later
LOL = laugh out loud
ROFL = rolling on floor laughing
IRL = in real life
Awks = embarrassing
Jokes = funny
Totes = very
Hench, buff = attractive, of boys
Sick = good
Salty, hot, peng, fit = attractive, of both sexes

next steps

  • Don’t try to adopt your child’s voice. They want to feel they’re their own, separate person, and developing their own teen slang is part of that
  • Teens love instant messaging and texts, so one way of communicating is to use mobile technology – but there’s no need to use abbreviated ‘txt spk’
  • If you don’t know what your child is talking about, ask them to explain what they mean and let them know you’re interested in what they’ve got to say
  • Read our article Good listening skills for better communication with your child for more information about connecting with your child