Teenspeak: they own it

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Speaking in what seems to be a code has always been a teenage thing - either because they’re trying to hide something, or, more likely, just simply to communicate in their own way, writes parenting columnist Ian Munro.

Ian Munro
Ian Munro

Getting to understand their language when they were toddlers was a joy, even exciting, but this new babble, 12 years on, can be a mystery bordering on annoying.

The online world has meant that more and new forms of teenspeak spread more rapidly, creating a more universal, viral version that has markedly increased the expressions parents struggle with.

Teenspeak is an expression of independence - just another way to signal their difference from us, their parents, and sometimes, to keep us in the dark. Using a language, particular to your "tribe", is part of developing self-esteem, confidence and a sense of identity and belonging. Knowing the right words creates an instant bond for a social group just as workplace jargon can do for adults.

Even within adolescence through to mid-20s there seem to be differing age groupings of slang. I now rarely wince when I hear colleagues in their mid-40s using expressions such as "cool bananas" on the phone, or even the simpler "cool". Heaven forbid, though, that I might suddenly start talking about the chicks we took to the hop after the flicks.

We all use language appropriate to the context, so ongoing criticism of teenspeak is pointless. Nor should we try to use it in attempt to relate to our youngsters.

For teenagers gathered together it’s teenspeak; for adults gathered together it’s adultspeak varying to the social context; and for parents speaking to their youngsters it should be parentspeak. Speaking teenspeak is likely to create an eye-rolling moment of embarrassment for your teen and not do you any great service.

In time, some expressions do become mainstream. A combination that still makes me wince is, "It’s, like, totally awesome." I can just about live with "awesome", but still struggle with the Americanism "like". Along with a certain tone that seems to go with the use of that particular four-letter word.

However, as all slang expressions and now also text-speak abbreviations enter mainstream, they are replaced by new ones.

Like all forms of a living language, the language of our teenagers is dynamic and ever-changing. We just have to get used to walking around puzzled and not quite sure what’s going on. If you do try using their expression back at them, the eyes will probably roll again but that expression may well disappear. To be replaced by a fresh one.


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