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My Teen Speaks a Different and Scary Language

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Dr. Meg Meeker

Any parent who has read text messages on her son’s phone recognizes a peculiar phenomenon: the words aren’t the same as he uses when he speaks. He uses acronyms and shorthand: OMG, BTW, GTG, LOL, 2nite, or msg. But odd language doesn’t stop with onfusing combinations of letters and numbers. Sometimes it gets downright seedy.

Many parents choke when they see profanity on their ten-year-old daughter’s phone or naked pictures on the screen of their fourteen-year-old son’s phone. Parents get scared because they wonder if these are the tip of the iceberg or a brief aberration from the normal texts. Their concerns are legitimate because the truth is, kids have the ability to live and function in a very private world where their parents aren’t allowed.

And the isolation that parents feel only begins with cell phones. Our kids are on computers at school and literally millions of people online have access to them. Virtually anyone can say anything that he wants to our kids at anytime, and we won’t know about it. Besides receiving profanity, many kids use it when communicating electronically leaving parents to wonder, why would my eleven-year-old sensitive, shy, and mild-mannered daughter receive and send text messages full of profanity?

The answer is simple: they get her attention. Besides, that’s what all of her friends are doing. She’s just blending in because that’s what eleven-year-old girls do. No, they’re not bad kids. They’re normal kids trying to navigate a far less intimate world than they live in with you. In the electronic world, they can text or post what they want without seeing someone laugh or sneer. Kids text things they would never say because the receiver isn’t standing in front of them. So what’s a parent to do? Let them have free reign? That’s pretty tough to do when we’re scared.

We can’t be there watching every text or seeing every post they put on Facebook. But we do need to be involved not only for our kids’ safety, but also because encouraging healthy, respectful behavior is a big part of good parenting.

I suggest that parents embrace a different attitude when it comes to electronic stuff that our kids have. Kids do crazy things when they feel no accountability to anyone. They can experiment with profanity and anything else if they feel that no one (especially, you) is looking.

So let them know that you always have access to whatever they say to anyone through any media platform. In the “old days” this is how families functioned. When someone wanted to talk to a family member, he or she  called the home phone, which was usually located in the kitchen, and everyone heard the conversation. It’s funny how differently kids speak when they know that Mom, Dad, and big brother are listening.

You can’t see or hear everything that your child writes or says, but you need to check the phone and have access to her Facebook page. She needs to know that since the phone is yours (not hers), that you will take a look whenever you want. You don’t do this because you want to communicate that you don’t trust her; it isn’t a matter of trust. Your concern is that others may be saying things about her that hurt. You, as her parent, need to see all of that.

Knowing that you have full access to all messages at anytime changes what kids say. At first they protest because they feel that they have the right to full privacy at fourteen, but who says this should be? Her friends say; that’s who.

Good thing that her friends aren’t her parents; you are.

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