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Story

Speak Of The Devil! Is communication tricky with your teenagers?

16/10/2009

Speak Of The Devil!

Is communication tricky with your teenagers?

A few years ago when my daughter was still a teenager I recall with a blush of embarrassment a certain evening when we were relaxing watching telly. A handsome Hollywood star was being interviewed and I turned to her and exclaimed, "Oh darling, isn't he "tic"!" (As in short for “fantastic”).

 

She looked at me with a woeful expression and in exasperated tones firmly put me in my place with her reply: "Mummy, I haven't used that word to describe a fit bloke for ages."

 

In that moment I realised what a thundering dinosaur of a mother I must've appeared in trying to use a slang word that was already past its use-by-date. “Honestly”, I reckoned to myself, “it only takes nanoseconds for her and her friends to invent new words before replacing them only as I’ve come to decipher them.”

 

This memory came flooding back to me when I read of a new book on the A-to-Z of teen-speak. I immediately wondered if some parent had hit on a brilliant idea to help the rest of us perplexed by some of the slang teens use. Particularly over the last decade with the rise in text message-style abbreviations parents have been left well and truly in the dark.

 

Taking a closer look I found it’s actually been written by a canny teenager obviously destined for a job in marketing as parents clamour for copies of her guide in the hopes of understanding what their adolescent is saying.

 

But such a clamour begs the question of why teenagers generate a whole set of words that leave their parents clueless? The answer lies in the fact that the teenage years are a time of genuine separation from one's parents. What teenagers want most is independence even when at certain levels they’re still heavily dependent on their parents particularly for that all-important pocket money from the Bank of Mum & Dad.

Their choice of words is proudly worn like a badge of their fledgling independence within their peer group. Because not only is there a general slang easily transmitted between teens at a national level through the internet and other media, but within their little groups, too, you'll find tribal variations. The way they express themselves identifies them as part of their immediate tribe; they’re in-the-know and want to keep outsiders at a distance. That may even include keeping other teenagers that belong to other tribes at arm's reach like the Goths versus the Indie-teens.

 

Heaven's forbid if as a parent you attempt to use some of their slang around their friends; just how uncool would that be in their eyes? You’d trample all their street cred in one fell swoop and forgiveness would be a long time coming for having committed such a heinous crime!

 

And it’s not only slang words that teenagers use to separate themselves from their parents who you must remember seem positively ancient and out-of-touch - and that includes you and me! Since the 1950s and the rise of the teenager, adolescents have demonstrated how different they are from the older generation by their tastes in music. Whatever upsets mum and dad is literally music to their ears!

 

In my mid-teens I can remember playing the Sex Pistols album for my parents who were literally horrified by the sound and any of the scant lyrics they could make out. This positively thrilled me. I felt so independent of them because of their shock. An invisible divide had separated us once and for all and I felt I was my own person.

Fashions, of course, also separate the teens from the has-beens. One derisory look at a parent that's dared to wear something too fashionable says even more than a few well-chosen slang words.

 

Although as parents we may think we know what’s best and that some of the slang terms we hear teens spouting sound ridiculous, ultimately it's healthy for your teen to use these ploys to separate themselves from you. After all you want them to learn to be independent and self-reliant. This may involve a little patience on your part when they hurl some indecipherable word into a conversation with you.

 

Also do you really want to know what your daughter means when she says the neighbour-boy is "hench" (strong, tough... "What, that spotty kid?" you're thinking) or that your son thinks his maths teacher is "vanilla" (dull in other words). And when he gets into a squabble with his baby brother who comes crying to you that his older brother’s called him a “klingon” (irritating!) simply look bewildered. Surely some ignorance is bliss after all!

 

Published in the Express Newspaper

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