Advice Column, Child, Tween & Teen

Teenage Slang and Language: A Guide to Understanding Teenagers

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When trying to communicate with your daughter, it can sometimes seem as though she is speaking another language; full of teenage slang and phrases you’ve never heard of. Our Teenagers’ Language Guide and Action Checklist will help you decipher youth slang and make it easier to talk to your daughter.

Across different generations, teenagers have always had their own language. Think of the 1950s 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 plays a crucial part in developing self-confidence.  It is also an important step in your journey of self-discovery as it develops a sense of identity and belonging. Teenagers are trying to find their own way in the adult world and feel most at home when developing relationships with their peers. Sharing a language with other teens creates a bond and helps to build a sense of self-confidence in one’s opinions.

Technology also 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 that teens are moulding language to suit their needs. We shouldn’t jump to criticise it, but we shouldn’t try to emulate it in order to relate to our daughters either.

“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 girls get older they may be happier to use language that their parents will have a better chance of understanding, but when they’re young they like to try new things and feel independent.

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.”

Understanding Teenagers:  A Teenage Language and Slang Words Guide

YOLO = you only live once

TTYL= talk to you later

LOL = laugh out loud

ROFL = roll on floor laughing

IRL = in real life

Awks = embarrassing

Jokes = funny

Totes = very

Sick = good

What Next: Action Steps to Help with Understanding Teenagers

  • Don’t try to adopt your daughter’s lingo. She wants to feel that she is her own, separate person, and developing her own language is part of that.
  • Teens love instant messaging and texting so one way to keep an open line of communication is to use mobile technology to contact your daughter – but there’s no need to use abbreviated ‘txt spk’ to be understood.
  • If you don’t know what your teenage daughter is talking about, try asking her to explain what she means and showing her you’re interested in what she has to say.


To read more articles like this, visit the Dove Self Esteem website:

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