Dr. Tracy Bennett
Dr. Tracy Bennett
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I’m curled up on a weathered leather couch in a beautiful loft barn we rented for the weekend. A last of summer cozy couples’ retreat in the rolling hills of wine country. We are waking up to soft braying of ponies, early morning foggy walks in vineyards ripe for harvest, and a leisurely breakfast of fresh eggs, hot mint tea, fresh squeezed watermelon and orange juice, and buttery warm banana bread left by our generous hosts. Later we are meeting our friends for a delicious farm to table lunch from local farms and orchards. Best of all…a weekend of fun with old and new friends before a busy school year starts. Crazy grateful for the rejuvenation from the sunshine and laze of summer.

Now that my kids are teens, we are able to sneak away sometimes, guilt-free. If you have little ones and can’t seem to sneak off for weekends yet, don’t despair. It’s coming one day. And when you do, you’ll spend much of it fondly remembering being frazzled and sleep-deprived with your little ones. Each phase of parenting has its challenges and its pleasures. In the spirit of sharing and friendship, I’m taking fifteen minutes out in this sweet little farm kitchen to share the fun content producers of Access Hollywood Live helped me develop for my segment Monday on Online Teen Slang: Should We Worry? I hope you’ve set aside time each week to curl up with steaming hot tea for a moment of solitude to read your GKIS article. They are written to gently pepper you with useful information about tech, parenting, and safety so you can teach during screen-free dinners with you and yours. ❤️ Now on to the basics of teen online slang.

Why is slang always changing? Is it to be ‘cool’ with friends?

Slang is an expression of culture. Youth culture changes rapidly and is based on popular memes, songs, and movies. Part of the excitement is that you have to be an integral part of the culture to keep up. No parents!

Teen Slang: The Bad News

Often reflects and teaches concepts you may not want your child to know.

Can be used to hide from parents and plan secret and even dangerous activities

Can be vulgar, offensive, or cruel.

Teen Slang: The Good News

Young people who use slang are striving to form their own, independent, adult identities.

Sharing slang provides a sense of belonging, and being ‘in-the-know’with friends.

Using slang is a celebration of being young and having fun.

Every generation creates its own slang, but why does it seem so different now? Has it evolved in the age of social media and smartphones?

Slang is not new. But with the web, kids have a bigger, private, more versatile playgroundto live in. They juggle lots of virtual identities, each with its own characteristics, slang, activities, and community on demand with thousands of members of their tribe connected at once. We had our neighborhood buddies and the telephone. Big difference.

Should parents attempt to use their teens’ slang as a way to try to relate to their kids, or is that getting into majorly uncool territory?

If you want them to roll around in agony and openly insult you, you should totally use their slang.

Should parents be worried about the slang their teens are using now, or is it no different than if they think back to when they were younger?

It’s different. It’s more dark and vulgar for sure.But the teens I see in practice and the ones I’m raising are still good people. They’ve just habituated to a more troubling slang culture overall. Parents should be worried if their kids are too “thirsty”to belong, because that would result in being too eager to join in and take risks. They should be worried if they’re too secretive. They should be worried if there’s evidence of sneaking and dangerous defiance. Otherwise, have fun with it. Of course, correct them when they cross over the line, but stay engaged. Allowing them some privacy is also important.

Another topic we want to touch on is the cultural sensitivity issue of using slang — many of the terms originate in African American or LGBTQ communities — how mindful should people of other communities be of this before being quick to just use any term?

In-groups are delicate. If a person intrusively hijacks slang from a group they haven’t earned a place in, it can look aggressive or demeaning. Slang provides information about boundaries and belonging.

How can people make sure it’s appropriate to use a term before they start using it?

Do your research before using slang, like observe and ask others, Google it, err on the side of caution.Teens brutally police each other to follow social morè’s, which may even slip into bullying. Let your teen know you have their back 100%, even when they make stupid mistakes. Even better, teach them that mistakes are part of learning and you expect them often. Rather than shame them when they’re hurting with a lecture, take them for a smoothly, show deep compassion, and share stories about how common and healthy mistakes are. Sometimes providing a fun distraction while it passes is what they need.

How to Spot Red Flags in Teen Slang Use & What to do About it:

  • Talk to your teen often. Let them DJ in the car and share funny videos to stay connected. Keep up on their friends and interests. Be you but with humor. Encourage their independence but reassure them you are being them 100%.
  • Keep an eye out for concerning behavioral changes like increased isolation, poor hygiene, reckless behavior, or darkened moods are things that may signal trouble.
  • Block dangerous websites and monitor screen use.
  • Bookmark helpful websites, like Urban Dictionary, and set google alerts.
  • Look out for defensiveness and changing the browser quickly or erasing it.
  • If you’re worried and they won’t talk to you, consider psychotherapy. It’s shocking the influence I have with teens as they blatantly reject their parents with the same advice. It can really turn the situation around.

Want to know which slang terms to pay attention to and if slang use leads to teens having sex? Check out my earlier article Online Slang That Parents Need to Know.

I’m the mom psychologist who helps you GetKidsInternetSafe.

Onward to More Awesome Parenting,

Dr. Tracy Bennett

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