Written by Susan H. Christiansen

Teen slang words are popular phrases, terms, or lingo (to name some common terms) used to express thoughts and feelings for thousands of years.

However, the digital age brings new ways to distribute that slang. As with most technology, there are good and bad applications.

If you deal with kids, you’ve probably wondered “What are the top 10 slang words now?” or “What are the slang words for 2020?” As parents, keeping up with teen slang can feel like a part-time job.

There are verbal slang terms teens use in oral conversations and texting slang for phones and social media.  The nature of teen slang is that it changes frequently, it’s designed that way.

Teen slang words and phrases can provide a gauge for inclusion within a certain group or express the culture of a certain time period. It often separates the insiders and the outsiders.

Slang can originate within geographic regions, religions, careers, subcultures, economic groups, and political parties to name a few groupings.

In an article on Psychology Today, Raychelle Cassada Lohmann, Ph.D., writes that teens “cleverly create words, and other times they recycle words and give them a whole new meaning.”

The origination of slang words may seem almost happenstance. For instance, Run DMC coined the term “illin” in the ’80s, meaning they were singing or doing something under the influence of drugs.

No one is sure why some phrases catch on and others do not. Sometimes a phrase can be traced to an event or created due to hard restrictions such as 280 characters on Twitter. 

The Purposes of Slang Words or Phrases

Using slang terms serves many purposes such as:

  • expressions that indicate family, affection, or friends
  • emotions in general
  • feelings about locations and events
  • jargon for specific activities like sports activities, hobbies, music, or tech
  • instruments of deception to hide risky behavior or worrying behavior
  • targeting behaviors intended to hurt, disrespect, include, or exclude certain people

Parents need to understand slang terms, not to restrict teen’s freedom of speech or expression of independent ideas, but to be aware of their teen’s feelings and behaviors.

If your teen is feeling depressed or suicidal, you need to know to get your teen help.

If someone is bullying your teen, you would want to know to stop it.

If someone is encouraging your teen to do drugs, drink, or engage in illegal or immoral behavior, you would want to know.

If your teen is bullying or propositioning others, you would want to know to stop it. 

Be Aware and Beware Common Teen Slang

Today, a popular word about drug use is “trippin” or “turndt.” A person may text about how he or she feels under the influence of drugs.

However, another instance of using “trippin” occurs during gaming. A player may say another team is closing in for an ambush but said ambush doesn’t materialize.

After a few seconds, he may say “I must have been trippin.” While the gamer is saying “trippin” which is associated with drugs, he is applying it in a different context to express an emotion or thought. “I’m lit” is also used frequently to mean I’m excited or this is awesome.

Another example occurred just last week. My son was talking to me about a gaming tournament and an invited “celebrity” gamer.

He referred to him as an “OG.” He told me it means “original gangster” but they (the gaming community) mean it as respect for someone who was into gaming from the beginning. 

 This recent study reported teens use slang to confuse others and to express emotion quickly and succinctly, among several other reasons. 

So be aware and beware. Slang terms may just be idle chatter, expressions, or they may point to teen slang danger signs. 

Maybe you’ve seen your teen text:

There are hundreds of variations of slang terms and situations. More are created every day as youth use language to establish and create an identity and sense of belonging within society at large. 

Resources: Apps That Decode Teen Slang and Websites That Inform Parents

The following table presents apps and websites dedicated to understanding and stopping the negative red flag influence of slang.  Urban Dictionary  is  probably the most popular website for listing the most common slang words used every day.

However, companies like Bark that monitor actual slang usage for clients such as schools and families probably have more accurate information on what teens are actually using. Click on any of the icons to be taken directly to the website.

Decoding Slang Resources

Slangit-The Slang Dictionary

Free app that allows you to search thousands of slang terms and emoticons. Search for the meanings of acronyms, abbreviations, slang terms, and emoticons.

Urban Dictionary

User generated definitions of popular slang terms and new words that is updated daily.

Bark

Bark’s affordable, award-winning dashboard proactively monitors text messages, YouTube, emails, and 30+ different social networks for potential safety concerns. Their blog updates current slang terms at least yearly based on data received from their customers’ usage.

Webwatcher

See Texts, Photos, Calls, Web, and GPS when this app is loaded on a phone. Parents can log in remotely to view flagged content. 

Websites to Protect Children

Kim Komando Tech Safety Contract

Kim Komanda is an experienced tech wizard who has been prodcasting for years. She has created a contractfor kids and parents to read and sign to define tech usage boundaries that keep kids safe.

Be Sure Consulting, LLC

Organization that trains law enforcement, educators, and parents on dangers of cyberbullying. Cyberparenting 101 class and resources are offered. 

Texas State Safety Center

‘Before You Text’ Sexting Prevention Course offered by Texas State College. Aimed at preventing sexting by minors and addresses the legal, social, emotional, educational, and career impact of sexting.

Get Smart About Drugs by DEA.gov

Resources and quiz about slang terms used for drugs and an excellent published report of slang and code words for drugs.

Empowering Parents in Monitoring Teens for Safety Reasons

As parents, we walk a fine line between respecting our teen’s transition into adulthood partnered with our desire to protect our children.

While we may not always make the right choice, if our intention as parents is to protect or prevent misdeeds, then there are tools that can help us.

The table above is a list of either apps or websites that are dedicated to understanding current slang and describing its meaning for parents. Click on any icon to be taken directly to the company website.

If you are worried your teen is depressed or suicidal, here are a few websites that focus on teen behaviors and risks:

National Institute of Mental Health: If you or someone you know needs help, the phone number is 1-800-273-TALK. You can also text “HELLO” to 741741. Both actions are open and free 24 hours per day seven days per week. The deaf and hard of hearing can contact this organization at Lifeline via TTY at 1-800-799-4889.

This “Warning Signs” infographic is helpful for understanding warning signs and offering actions you can take with the distressed person right now.

Spectrum Labs publishes a podcast titled “The Brief.”  An original episode titled Cyberbullying: Detection in a Meme, Emoji, and Slang-Filled World” aired in December, 2019.

This discussion features experts discussing cyberbullying and remedies to lessen the occurrence and impact of cyberbullying. You can read the transcript, listen to the podcast, or view the presentation on YouTube.

Stomp Out Bullying is a website focused on eliminating bullying and hate often demonstrated through the use of slang words and phrases. They have several useful tools for educators, parents, and teens.

Final Thoughts on Teen Slang

Set healthy boundaries and nourish the relationship with your teen. Setting boundaries doesn’t mean to control or constantly monitor everything your teen does.

A healthy boundary is an acknowledgement of where you begin and end and where your teen begins and ends, two completely separate beings.

It is reasonable for your teen to want to keep things private from you. As a parent, you can agree to this as long as you do not feel their safety is compromised.

Your teen needs to feel safe and trusted by you, and trust you, in return, in order to have a healthy relationship. 

Part of the teen maturing process is to have increasingly more control over his or her own time and resources. We want our teens to feel capable and confident of making good choices.

Teach and then trust your teen to make good choices. Keep exploring and decoding teen slang to understand your teen.

If you have reason to doubt that trust, verify by talking to them and, perhaps, using one of these slang apps to help you make informed decisions.

Above all, we have a duty to protect our children as they grow up and learn how to navigate safely in the world, sometimes even from themselves.