Understanding Teen Slang Can Help Parents Better Support Their Kids
In this week's 'Teen Talk' column, a teen shares a guide to decoding the slang words and phrases parents might hear their high schooler use.
As parents, you might wonder what you can do to better support your teens. In order to support us, you need to understand us, and knowing our words is a good place to start. Every community of teens has its own slang phrases—some of them express emotions, explain what's going on in their lives, or are just shorthand for things you talk about too. But understanding what your teen is saying, even if they don't intend for you to understand, can help you have deeper conversations with them and watch out for warning signs that they need extra support.
I can't speak for all teens, but as a 19-year-old white teenager from the suburbs of New York, I can tell you what I do know and what I grew up hearing in my private school. There are other phrases or words that might be relevant to your child, and if you want to be more thorough, there's quite a bit out there for you to search for using specific markers such as location, race, age, etc. I'm going to cover the phrases that I think span most of these demographics.
In my feels/ In my feelings / In my bag
If you hear these words, your role as a parent might be a little more involved for the time being. When you hear a teen say "in my feels" or "in my feelings" or even sometimes "in my bag," they might be sad, or even just emotional.
This means they have an emotional connection to someone, usually someone with which they did not want to develop an emotional connection, such as a random hookup. Hookup, in this context, can range from someone they kissed to someone they had a sexual encounter with, depending on their age or stage of sexual development.
Spill the tea
If they are "spilling tea," they're gossiping, which can be harmless, but can also be something for which to keep your eye out.
When someone hears some tea, they might say that they are "shook," which really just means shocked or taken aback.
Low key v. high key
If you want to keep something a secret, you might say keep it "low key," and if someone is being very vocal or loud about something, you might say it's "high key," or you might call the action or the person "extra," meaning they're doing too much.
Periodt/ On periodt
This word usually adds emphasis to one's own statement or expresses agreement with someone else's statement. It's sort of like when Gen X people say "period, end of discussion."
That's cap/ No cap/ Bet
If you hear your teen saying "that's cap" or "no cap" or "bet," we're talking about the validity of a statement. "That's cap" means "you're lying," whereas "no cap" means "that's the truth." "Bet" can mean a number of things. Firstly, if I want to make plans and I say "meet me outside of your dorm in ten?" and they say "bet," I know to expect that they'll be there. Sometimes it can also mean "really?" or even "I don't believe you." For example, I might say "I can bench more than you" and you might reply "bet?," taking on that "really?" meaning. No one is putting any money down, but they are sort of challenging the validity of a statement in the same way as if they are actually betting on it.
Flex/ Pop Off/ Slay
When someone wants to show off, they might "flex," and when someone else is either showing off or looking/doing something good, you might tell them "go off" or "pop off," sort of like "slay." All of these phrases are just general compliments about looks or actions.
If you're a fan of a person or what they're doing, you can be a "stan" or you can say "we stan," like "we like that." For some reason, most Gen Zers speak in "we" terms and not "I" terms. An example of this would be "we stan that fit that Zendaya wore at the Emmys," fit being short for outfit.
If we want to go even further in complimenting a person's fit, we might say they look "snatched," which can mean skinny, but it can also mean generally good looking, aesthetically pleasing, etc. Some people might say "wig" if something is so amazing, because it made your proverbial wig fall off, although I never hear that personally.
I also want to address some words/acronyms that are actually new to my vocabulary, and might be good to know for parents of people who are part of the LGBTQ community. Knowing these terms can be a way for parents to show their children that they support them and are willing to learn. Support doesn't always mean knowing the right thing to say right away, but parents can learn if you want to show your teen that you care. Many people are dismissive of these complicated nuances that come along with sexuality and gender identification. They'll say things like "too many letters to keep up" when referring to LGBTQ , or they'll mock the use of alternate pronouns such as the singular they/them/theirs, and this can be extremely damaging to teens who need validation from their parents.
This play on NB, which stands for non-binary, is a term for individuals who do not conform to the gender binary-man and woman.
Two important acronyms that are being used more often are "MLM'' and "WLW'' which mean men-liking-men and women-liking-women, respectively. These can characterize people who are homosexual, bisexual, and pansexual, among other things. When talking about same-sex involvement of any kind, it can be a more all-encompassing term.
The Bottom Line
Parents, we as your teens love you and appreciate all that you do to better understand and support us. Learning the words we use, and ultimately how we express ourselves, is so crucial, and can really show us how you care. Whether it's learning about the ways we define ourselves, how we express our emotions, or those simple filler words that come up quite often in our everyday conversations, we appreciate every effort, big and small. As you know, we struggle to say it, but thank you for putting in the effort, thanks for supporting us, thanks for all that you do, periodt!
Ariel Wajnrajch (she/her) is a 19-year-old Jewish girl from Long Island, NY. She is a sophomore at Binghamton University, pursuing a degree in psychology. Ariel writes for the opinions section of Binghamton University’s largest independent student-run newspaper, Pipe Dream.
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