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Getting the 4-1-1 on slang helps parents understand kids

"Yo, Mom?"

"Are you talking to me, sweetie?"

"Yeah. Can I borrow the ride? Me and the peeps, and a few of our pimps, are going to watch a movie at a dawg's crib."

"What? Did you say pimps?"

"Come on, Mom. Don't be trippin'. There won't be, like, any hookin' up going on, and no one's faded."

"Huh? I'm not going on a trip. And who's this pimp?"

"Thanks, Mom. You're dope. Peace out."

Does your teen make you feel like a hoser? That's teen slang, you know, for a weirdo. Teen slang is everywhere. In the music the kids listen to, the TV shows and teen movies they watch, and the magazines they read. It shows up in their phone conversations, the notes they pass in school and the instant messaging they do on the computer.

So if it's everywhere, do you really understand it?

Cheryl Minnick, a Missoula counselor and one of the teen experts at Families First, started studying teen slang about five years ago after she realized she didn't understand what her daughters and their peers were saying. She started asking her children and other teens just what these foreign-sounding words meant.

From there, Minnick started to appreciate the teen language for its "casual and wonderfully colorful nature," she says.

"It's fun to listen to - confusing, but fun," the mother says.

Minnick has taught several classes on teen slang to other parents, teachers and counselors. Many adults take her classes because they don't want to misunderstand what a teen is saying or writing, she says. It can be a fun topic to talk about, but some parents she meets also can be frustrated, especially with the music their children are listening to. Often, they don't understand the lyrics.

A case in point is the word pimp. Everyone knows what the word really means. But to today's teen, a pimp is a cute boy or boyfriend. If a teen says a friend is "ripped," that doesn't mean drunk any more. Instead, it refers to his muscles.

This teen slang is nothing new. Teenagers have always modified language and invented a vocabulary to separate themselves from adults, Minnick says. So yesterday's "pad" is today's "crib." Yesterday's "groovy" is today's "sweet."

This creation of their own language promotes a belonging; in addition, it provides social connection and communication, which are fundamental to teens, she says.

Today's teen slang has been influenced mostly by the popular TV music video channel MTV and the hip-hop music industry, Minnick says. The music our teens listen to has created much of this dexterity in our language, she says. Cyber teens who use instant messaging also have contributed somewhat to slang by incorporating e-mail shorthand (POS, for example, is a warning that parents are over the shoulder and KOL means that information should be kept on the lowdown, or secret) into the written language.

However, as with most fashion trends, the vocabulary changes quickly, so it's hard to keep up with, says Minnick, who updates the teen slang list she hands out in class at least once a year.

But if we've all had our own teen slang, why pay attention to it?

"I think the best thing is it opens avenues of discussion," says Diana Reetz-Stacey, director of operations at Families First and the mother of a teenager. Many slang words are used when teens talk about subjects such as drugs or sex, Reetz-Stacey says. So if parents hear "4-20" in a song or see it on a note, that can open up a discussion about drugs. (4-20 means pot or party.)

Peggy Mallette, a counselor at Hellgate Middle School, has taken Minnick's class a couple of times because she wanted to be informed. By the seventh and eighth grades, many students are using the slang. There have been cases of teachers intercepting notes and not knowing if they should be alarmed by the slang words used in them, Mallette says. It's helpful to know if the slang is common, innocent language or if it is suggesting a problem, she says.

Minnick encourages parents to read their children's magazines. Magazines such as Teen People and Seventeen use the teen language throughout their pages. Or listen to the lyrics in their music. You may just find your young son's favorite rapper really isn't using appropriate language. Or watch their favorite shows and movies with them. Check out Web sites frequented by teens, such as, which has a teen language page. Or you could even try asking,.

But, remember this, Minnick says: It really isn't appropriate to use teen slang when talking to your children. She may use a slang word as a joke, to defuse a tense situation at home, but she doesn't use this teen language when speaking with her daughters.

Really, you don't want to be a poser.

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