When you hang out with teenagers every week who tend to push the boundaries and find themselves in trouble at school, you have learn some new vocabulary pretty quickly! This is the position I find myself in…often.

I cannot tell you how many times I have sat in a group, dumbfounded and confused, while the entire room laughs at a word or phrase I don’t know. Teenagers can sometimes have a different language. They talk in lots of letters and seemingly innocent phrases can mean something else entirely!

So what can we do? How do we keep up? What do these words even mean?!

If you spend any time with teenagers, you should find these principles helpful (and stick around for our teen term guide at the bottom):

Pay attention

This one seems self-explanatory, I know! But if you aren’t paying attention to what your teen is saying, the words they are speaking to their friends or the phrases they use in text messages and on social media, you won’t know where to start. Pay attention to what they, and their close friends, are saying – especially if you hear something that doesn’t make sense (i.e. a bunch of letters like wtf or bae).

Take note of what you don’t understand and follow-up on it! They often think that they are getting away with something by using code, so turn the tables on them and start listening and asking questions!


Ask them for clarification

After you have paid attention and hear a word that you don’t know, ask them about it. It could be possible that they don’t even really understand what it means and just hear it at school, or they might start acting funny and you’ll know you’re on to something!

If you hear something you are concerned about, don’t be afraid to confront that teenager and let them know that you are listening to what they are saying and care enough to start a conversation about it. But keep in mind, this should be a conversation – ask for clarification and then sit back and let them respond.


Google it

This tends to be my go-to, especially when I don’t want them to know that I have no idea what they’re talking about…

(Don’t tell my secret), but in times like these, I pretend like I know what these words and phrases mean. It’s not hard to figure out that they aren’t talking about monkey bars when they say they were doing “bars” and the rest of the group either laughs or looks quickly at me to check my reaction. At the time, I had no idea what bars were, but I pretended I did, shut down the conversation and went home to safely Google-it myself.


At Teen Lifeline, we firmly believe in being present and active in teenagers’ lives. This may mean asking awkward questions or having uncomfortable conversations when you figure out what they are actually talking about. But it is worth it! Show that you have some street-cred and keep up to date with the newest phrases and coolest terms.


Here’s a good starting point if you have no idea what to listen for:

(*Disclaimer: This blog post is not meant to make you paranoid or cause you to grill your teenager as soon as they get home. Not every teenager even knows what these words mean – please don’t assume the worst! Instead of panicking, pay attention and keep the door open for positive conversations!)

Teen Lifeline Dictionary

Term MeaningExample(s)
Netflix & ChillThis is not just hanging out and watching movies - this means "hooking up" or having sex. Wanna go Netflix and chill?
BaeBefore anyone else; baby; sweetieRyan Gosling is bae.
I love you so much bae!
Hooking upCould mean literally anything - kissing, making out, sex - ask what their definition is!Did you hear that they have been hooking up?
GOATGreatest Of All Time.Tony Romo is the G.O.A.T!
Those shoes are G.O.A.T.
LitIncredibly awesome; or extremely intoxicated. This song is lit!
Last night, I got lit.
DMDirect Message - private messaging on Twitter or InstagramCan't talk now, DM me.
He slid in my DM.
Molly Drug called MDMA or ecstasy She took a Molly last night.
WTFPronounced "W-T-F," meaning "What the f***?!"WTF is wrong with you?!
GoalsWhen something is attractive or it's something you aspire to. Ben & Lauren are relationship goals.
Your hair is goals!
AFPronounced "af," meaning "As f***"I'm hungry af.
That class was boring af.
She is annoying af.
PAW or PIRParents Are Watching or Parents In Room - if you see an acronym starting with 'P' ask questions!Let's talk later PAW/PIR
VShort for "very."I'm v tired.
Dinner was v good!

Are there any other words or phrases you’re curious about? Do you have any suggestions for how to start this conversation? Share with us!

Karlie Duke was in one of Teen Lifeline’s original support groups and now is our Communications Director. She is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories.