What Is the Meaning of Words & Phrases Teenagers Use?


As a child grows, her language skills are supposed to improve. But the real-life results might sometimes seem the opposite -- to many parents it might even seem that their teens are speaking a foreign language. After parents understand the reasons why teens purposefully speak an informal language, they will be better equipped to accommodate their teen’s unnatural word quirks.

Offensive Language

  • Of the words coming from teens’ mouths that parents understand are a wealth of dirty words and impolite slang. Some parents might feel that this change in teenage language indicates a change in politeness and morals. But it does not. In fact, according to English professor and author of “Trends in Teenage Talk,“ Anna-Brita Stenstroem, teens feel expected to violate social norms through language use. Teens are using impolite terms and slang to live up to what they feel are social expectations -- breaking the taboos of the older generation. But this is only surface-level behavior; breaking language taboos does not imply breaking true social taboos, such as engaging in criminal behavior.

Separation from the Adult Word

  • As much as teens want to appear as adults, their language seems to tell a different story. As Crispin Thurlow, University of Washington professor and author of “Talking Adolescence” puts it, teens view the adult world as one that stereotypes young people. Thurlow mentions how teens are “frustrated by misinterpretations” from the adult world and counter such stereotypes by developing words and phrases that separates their community from that which the mainstream adult society sees the teen world. In a way, the phrases that you find strange are your teen’s way of telling you “you just don’t get me.”

Community Identity

  • Teenagers care more about fitting in than perhaps any other demographic. But part of fitting in is excluding those who don’t fit in. For the benefit of the group, teens use language as a mechanism that separates the in-group and out-group. Unlike the phrases that all teens share and allow teens to separate themselves from adults, these phrases separate groups of teens from other groups of teens. For example, a group of goth teens might use the word “core” to mean “cool,” while a group of skater teens might prefer “sick” to mean the same thing.

What’s a Parent to Do?

  • It’s a natural response for a parent to fear getting cut off from her teen due to language issues. However, if you attempt to study your teen’s language and communicate as he does, you’ll find communication lines cut more quickly than you can say “what’s the haps, bra?” As a parent, your best response to your teen’s changing vocabulary is to show respect and let him know that you understand his identity is changing. Allow communications lines to stay open so that you can communicate values to him in your language and he can communicate his problems to you in his. Remember, you are his parent, not his friend.


  • Photo Credit Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images
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