Across different generations, teenagers have always had their own language. Think of the 1950s’ Beat Generation when all things good were called “cool”. By the early 1960s, Mod slang had changed this to “ace”, in hippy lingo it became “groovy” and today, this simple descriptor can be anything from “sick” to “amaze”. It can make understanding teenagers hard.
Teenage slang words exist because they need their own language
Using a language that is particular to your tribe and time is part of developing self-esteem, confidence and crucially, a sense of identity and belonging. Teenagers are trying to find their own way in the adult world and are most at home when developing relationships with their peers. Having your own teenage language creates bonds with other teens, and helps to build confidence in your own opinions.
Technology creates greater opportunities for coming up with new words. 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 molding language to suit their needs. We shouldn’t jump to criticize it, but we grown-ups don’t need to try to emulate it either in order to relate to our daughters.
There’s no need to learn teenage slang or text speak
“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.”
As daughters get older they may be happier to use language that their parents will probably have more chance in understanding, but when they’re young they like to try new things and feel some independence.
Rapidly changing teenage slang, says Dove Self-Esteem Project Advisory Board member Dr. Christina Berton, is a totally normal part of the growing up process and something that parents should try to accept. “As your daughter grows up, she will be constantly trying to find ways to define her own personality and mark out her independence,” she explains. “Naturally, part of this is about setting herself apart from her parents and having a ‘private’ language between her and her friends is one way of doing this.
“This doesn’t mean you have to be excluded from what’s going on though – as her parent, it’s important to make sure she knows you’re willing to talk to her about anything and that above all, you’re really interested in what’s going on in her life. Remember not to be judgmental and be a parent she can look up to for wisdom, advice and sharing. That way she’ll know the lines of communication are always open.”
Article date: 26 June 2013
Review date: 26 June 2014