Decyphering the Text Code

Posted by: on April 3, 2011

A recent report issued by researchers at Beloit College, highlighted a shocking cultural disparity in America. The concerning divide was not found between religious or racial sets, but between everyday Parents and their Teenage Children. It seems that a technological revolution has sheared a rift between the way in which today’s teens interact with the world, and the way in which their parents do.

It’s not at all shocking to acknowledge that most teens know little about the prominent cultural or historical events that shaped their own parent’s adolescence. It is concerning to say the least, however, that most parents today know little about the digital world that is shaping their own kid’s adolescence. According to Professor Tom McBride, today’s teens can’t write in cursive, most have never used a phone with a cord on it, and few have ever used a stamp. While most of today’s parents didn’t send an email until they were in college, today’s teenagers already view email as an obsolete technology; a relic of the digital age at its infancy. Though we parents were alive and conscious during this time period, a dynamic cultural shift took place without barely a blip on our radar.

Breaking The Code: Know Your Abbreviations

LOL and OMG are easy because each letter stands for a word. Usually, if you read an abbreviation in context with the conversation, you can quickly reason out the longhand form. 4COL, means “For Crying Out Loud”, B4YKI, means “Before You Know It.” (Always try this technique first.)

These circumstances not only highlight some major differences in the mediums that today’s teens use to interact, but also expose a major change in the way that young people communicate. Most of today’s teens claim that email is too slow. And while instant messaging is faster, its just not fast enough. It was against this backdrop of next-gen technology and social necessity, that digital shorthand was developed. Very rapidly, there evolved an entirely new language for digi-savy teens to use with one another. In today’s digital shorthand dictionary, numbers and symbols have replaced letters and words. This code is no longer limited to simple abbreviations, such as LOL, but includes artistic representations, such as \%/, meaning cocktail, or @:-||, meaning headache.

Not only are most parents inexperienced with the mediums in which their children are communicating, but they are unfamiliar with the language that their kids are using to communicate. With the average teen sending and receiving over 50 texts a day, there’s a lot of information being exchanged in what may as well be a vacuum. Parents never hear it, they rarely see it, and when they do notice it, they don’t understand it.

The drive for parents, and to those who find themselves in the position to help educate parents, is to actively bridge this divide. It is now essential to become versed in these new mediums, and to develop literacy in this new language. Never before, has the information streaming into our kid’s heads been so unfiltered. Never before, has the number and manner of their social connections been more diverse. Never before, has it been more important for parents to take a hint from their children’s generation, and learn a new skill.

Breaking The Code: Know Your Numbers

Numbers are often used because they either look or sound like a certain letter:

  • 1 stands for L because it looks like an L
  • 3 stands for E because it looks and sounds like an E
  • 7 stands for T because it looks like a T
  • 2 stands for U because is sounds like a U

For example, 182 means “I Hate U”. The 1 looks like an “I”, the 8 sounds like “ate” and the 2 sounds like “you”.

Tools like the Teen Chat Decoder, can be a significant part of this action plan. It is a website which provides an easily searched database of popular chat abbreviations. If you run into crazy looking number combinations or symbols, visit If you still don’t find what you are looking for, just put quotes around the symbol or abbreviation, and enter it into a google search. The answer should be revealed.

Breaking The Code: Know Your Symbols

Symbols use a combination of characters to produce a hieroglyph. <3, uses a symbol and number to create a heart, or say "I love you". @ usually means "at", but it can also represent a head, as in @8K for "headache".

In addition, it is suggested that parents actively engage their own kids via text as well. Make sure you get your screentime. Cool tips and sample messages can be found at our Text This resource page. Finally, never be afraid to ask your child what it is that they’re typing back and forth. What you learn could truly surprise you.

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