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Parents struggle to understand teen talk

Donna Coutts, May 10, 2018 7:00PM Kids News

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Emma Perry and Madeleine Rosier with their favourite slang words. Picture: Josie Hayden media_cameraEmma Perry and Madeleine Rosier with their favourite slang words. Picture: Josie Hayden


Reading level: orange

The top five slang words used by Australian teenagers are dude, K, salty, savage and LOL.

And teenagers use so much slang — which is casual, made-up or shortened speech — that parents are struggling to understand what their kids are saying.

They’re just some of the results of a new survey of 500 Australians aged 13-19.

Another popular word is extra, which girls use more than boys and Victorians and Queenslanders use more than teens in other states, the survey by market research company YouGov and social media company Facebook found.

Words that aren’t cool any longer include YOLO and dab or dabbing, bae (short for babe) and sup (short for what’s up).

Teenagers Hanging Out In the City media_cameraTeenagers use slang when they talk and text. Picture: supplied

LOL, which made it into the Oxford English Dictionary as an official word in 2011, began as a short way to say lots of laughs or laugh out loud. The survey found LOL is still popular but its meaning is changing to mean something is not funny.

Manners expert Anna Musson said texting has changed language and parents should make sure their kids can speak in full sentences and know when and when not to use slang.

Anna Musson media_cameraManners expert Anna Musson. Picture: News Corp

“I have no idea what my son is saying half the time, but as long as it’s not putting a person down, it’s a rite of passage*,” she said.

“When young people are applying for jobs, employers need to see they can converse* intelligently*.”

Nicole Lessio from parenting network* The Parenthood said kids’ slang can be hard for parents to keep up with.

“Language is always evolving* but I think technology is simply increasing the rates of change with words and phrases … it’s great that teens can have language that makes them feel connected to their peers*,” she said.

Social researcher Mark McCrindle said using slang doesn’t affect teenagers’ understanding of English, but allowed them to bring a “fresh” approach to it.

“They know when to use slang and when to be more respectful,” he said.

Social researcher Mark McCrindle media_cameraSocial researcher Mark McCrindle. Picture: supplied

Simon Musgrave, a language expert at Monash University, said teenagers use language to experiment with their identities*, which wasn’t something to judge or fear.

“It’d be foolish to deny technology is affecting how we communicate, but language is changing and teenagers bring creativity and innovation* to it,” he said.


  • dude: a mate, man, or guy
  • K: okay, but can be used sarcastically, to mean not okay
  • salty: to be rude, negative or angry
  • savage: to be bitter
  • LOL: laugh out loud, but can be used sarcastically, to mean not funny
  • extra: you’re trying too hard to be cool
  • YOLO: you only live once
  • dab, dabbing: Usain Bolt-like dance move
  • bae: babe
  • sup: what’s up
  • queen, or yass queen: showing support for a friend
  • basic: too mainstream, not exciting
  • shook: to be surprised, or to describe something as unusual
  • lit: good, although can be used sarcastically to mean not good
  • peng: cool
  • eets: sweet
  • peak: something bad or good
  • yeet: cool
  • fam: your group of friends


 Ed Sheeran’s anti-bullying message


  • rite of passage: an event that marks moving from one stage of life to another
  • converse: talk
  • intelligently: smartly
  • network: group of connected people
  • evolving: changing over time
  • peers: people your age or at your level
  • identities: who people are
  • innovation: a new way


1. To slang or not to slang?
What is slang, who uses it and why?

Which “experts” were quoted in the article?

Summarise what they think about the use of slang.
Make a list of 10 situations where it would not be appropriate to use slang. Why would using slang not be appropriate in these situations?

2. Extension: Can you talk ‘slang’?
Using words from the Cool and uncool slang list, write a script of a conversation between you and a friend. Use as many of the words as you can, ensuring you are using the slang meaning of these words. Act out your conversation. Can your audience understand what you are talking about?

Time: Allow 20 minutes
Curriculum links: English, The Art — Drama

3. Slang today, gone tomorrow
Slang changes over time. Slang words that were common some time ago are now not used or seen as cool by teenagers and many adults would not know the context of how some of the current slang words are used.

Test out this theory.

Survey a number of adults to see if they know how the slang words mentioned in the article are being used by teenagers. You could survey teachers, support staff at school, parents, carers, other family members, sports coaches, trainers, or a crossing supervisor.

Allow survey participants to indicate which decade (or decades) they were teenagers and then list the slang words that they used regularly what context they were used in. Survey your classmates — do any of these words still get used in this context?

Do your results support or refute this theory? 4. Make three or four statements about your findings.

Extension: Can you create a new slang word?
As a class, decide on a new slang word. Ensure it is not rude and the meaning is not disrespectful to anyone. Can you and your classmates use it enough that it influences others to include it in their vocabulary? After a week (then a month), take note if anyone is still using it. Take note if you hear anyone from outside your class or outside your school using it? Has it become a slang word in your school?

Time: Allow 60 minutes
Curriculum links: English, Mathematics

After reading the article, with a partner, highlight as many wow words or ambitious pieces of vocabulary that you can find in yellow. Discuss the meanings of these words and see if you can use them orally in another sentence.

On a blank piece of paper, draw a grid of six spaces.

You will also need a dice between pairs.

Pick six different wow words from the article to use in the next activity, try and pick some easy and some challenging ones.

Write a different wow word in each of the 1-6 grid spaces.

Think of a topic. How about: A sweltering day

Roll the dice and whichever wow word you roll, you have to try and use to create an exciting sentence about the topic.

For example, The SCORCHING heat made the sweat TRICKLE down my forehead as I waited for the bus.

Take turns, going back and forth. After three turns each, change the topic.

Please do not use one-word answers. Explain what you enjoyed or found interesting about the article. Use lots of adjectives.

Extra Reading in humanities