Don’t Say That!

In a conversation with some 8th grade girls this week, I casually mentioned that I was “looking forward to meeting my son’s new gf.”  My comment was met with disapproving silence.  One girl turned to the other and asked, “Did she really just say ‘gf’?”  The other nodded her head sadly.  One of them then turned to me and said, “Mrs. Acuna, you can NOT say ‘gf.'”  “Why not?” I asked (knowing full well the answer).  “Because!”  she replied.  “That’s OUR language, and you’re not allowed to speak it!”  “So,” I said, “I’m supposed to KNOW your language but not use it, is that correct?”  “Exactly” was her response, and all the girls nodded.

Today I explored the topic a little more with a whole roomful of 8th graders.  They couldn’t really tell me what was so bad about parents speaking their language; they only knew it was “embarrassing” and “just wrong.”  I heard complaints about parents who say “S’up?” or “Fo’ sho'” or “Suh-weet!”

This is not a new concept for teen-agers.  The words have changed – you might remember “cherry,” “groovy,” “far out,” and “cool” – but the rules have not.  Teens want – no, make that DEMAND – the right to speak their own language.  It’s okay for the adults to be familiar with the words, but actually using them is unacceptable.

That’s not to say the adults can’t have some fun with the language.  By last summer I had grown weary of hearing “I know, right?”  When we went on vacation in June, I began saying it constantly in response to my sons, until I drove them bonkers.  “Mom, you do realize you’ve totally ruined that phrase for us, don’t you?” they complained.  Smugly, I acknowledged that was my intention.  I hardly heard it for the next several weeks, which was actually very amusing.

Sociologists call it “differentiating.”  It’s all about adolescence being that transitional period when teens are trying to leave childhood behind.  To do so, they have to get out from under the direct influences of the adults in their lives and begin relating more to their peers.  After all, their peers are the people who will enter adulthood with them.  When the adults in their lives try to speak like them, it violates a crucial boundary.

Language isn’t the only thing teens reserve for themselves.  Clothing, music – even certain foods or drinks – can be considered off-limits to the adults in their lives.  It’s okay to be in touch with what’s going on in their world, but don’t expect to be allowed to play.  We’ll just have to be content with speaking like adults, at least when there are teens within earshot.

Let’s all say it together:  “I know, right?”


  1. Like OMG! I sometimes ask my kids friends what somethings/words mean/stand for, and my 14 year old gets so embarrassed. EVERYTHING embarrasses her. Sometimes it’s hard to know when to ask your own teen and when to ask someone else. Got any suggestions on clues to look for when your teen has friends with them and they are all talking, somewhat to you and somewhat not? So far I have tried ignoring them and tried just asking “safe” questions, as in the teachers they like or dislike or classes they enjoy, neutral ground.

  2. And every single time we said, “Mom you’ve ruined it!” you replied with, “I KNOW, RIGHT???” I still flinch every time I say that when I come home. Dad always cracks me up when he says, “Cool, DUDE!” because he always says it so condescendingly. I don’t remember ever caring so much about you using lingo and I can’t remember if it’s because I never knew it in the first place or because you just never said it. I do remember double-taking every time you did say something though. You’ve been instant messaging for a long time too and a lot of that lingo comes from texts and instant messages.

  3. I heard “I know right” for the first time a couple days ago (older teen doing childcare for a church function) though I wouldn’t have noticed it if it hadn’t been for your blog.
    As for the abbreviations, I think its weird to hear/see my 11yo using them because I’ve been using them since before she was born. When she comes across a new one she asks me what it stands for. I guess the difference is that I used to fear I’d accidentally say LOL out loud in conversation, while there are at least a couple she says out loud on purpose, or she’ll spell them in sign language. When I pointed out that was the OPPOSITE of laughing out loud, she was amused at herself. As long as its a long time before I see her type “dh” or “nak” I guess I can share my language.

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