Some teens adopt subculture dress in addition to the informal language.

Common Teen Slang

by David B. Ryan

Teen slang sounds like a foreign language to outsiders not in the know, but the informal language serves an important purpose in developing teen friendships and helping teens understand how social groups work on an adult level. William Shakespeare's teens used slang, and every generation has subcultures with a special language. The most common family problems with slang include the inability of parents to understand teens, and developing home rules for social use of the language when speaking to parents, relatives and adult family friends.


Subcultures develop informal language that allow teenagers to communicate without outsiders or adults understanding the message. Your son, the surfer, might lament that the "kooks" and "groms" took all the "swells" leaving all the "brahs" with the "ankle biters" -- a complaint that notes the inexperienced surfers interfered with the experienced surfers catching the good waves that day. Teens enjoying skateboarding have their own culture and slang such as calling other teens "campers" who bring skateboards, but never skate, according to TransWorld Skateboarding, a popular skating magazine. While outsiders may catch on when listening to boarders use the term "camper," deciphering the meaning of "groms" and "brahs" during a conversation might take more time.

Bonding and Regionalism

Teenagers use slang with members of the subculture to build friendships, according to cyberanthropoligist Steve Mizrach of Florida International University, and the informal language also allows teens to self-identify with the subculture by using the popular jargon. Subcultures have slang to identify teens who want to identify with a subculture, such as "wannabe" or "poser," but have yet to be accepted. Popular informal language develops around geography, and while the subculture shares common terms, many slang terms are unique to a region. Most subcultures use slang as a verbal communication, but with the increased use of new media, texts send creatively spelled slang messages.

Parent Tolerance

Parents must make decisions about when and where teens can use slang, and talking to your children about using slang is the best way to address the language issue when problems happen, according to the Arizona State University Community Learning Center. Most families don't have problems with the informal vocabulary, but when teens begin using the slang from groups involved in criminal activities, parents become concerned about the use. Some subcultures use slang with alternative meanings outside the cultural group, and this slang tips parents to the fact their teen associates with a subculture involved in crime or drugs. For example, teen talk using slang such as "red chicken" and "pineapple," street slang for types of heroin, has nothing to do with food or dining.

Social Skills

Teens learn appropriate times and places for slang when schools and employers set boundaries for using the informal language. Social skills typically develop as teens age and have experiences outside school and the subculture, but some teens need to have slang boundaries spelled out in clear terms. Teachers and employers need to set down rules limiting the use of slang at work or school to create a better working environment, according to Harvard Business School.

About the Author

David B. Ryan has been a professional writer since 1989. His work includes various books, articles for "The Plain Dealer" in Cleveland and essays for Oxford University Press. Ryan holds degrees from the University of Cincinnati and Indiana University and certifications in emergency management and health disaster response.

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