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Tips for Talking to Teens (With a Bonus List: Trending Teen Slang in 2021)

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT Meet The Team >

The first thing we want to tell you about talking to teens is that they really don’t want you to use their slang.

Their slang is for them.

It’s fine to know it. It helps you if you know it. And if you know it, they’ll probably be impressed. But they probably won’t tell you they’re impressed – and please, for the love of all that is holy, be judicious when using it in front of their friends.

Drop the random bomb on them from the front seat of the car, sure – they’ll all bust out laughing if you get it right.

But again – teen slang is for teens.

There’s a good reason parents should not try to talk like their teenagers.

Developmentally speaking, a big part of adolescence is differentiation. What that means is that teens are in the process of forming their own identity, separate and distinct from you and the identity they built with you, their teachers, and their peers, at home and at school, over the past 10-12 years. They’re still the same person, but during adolescence, they become more them. As they learn and gather knowledge about the world and encounter more examples of adult behavior outside of home and school – some good role models, some not so good – they pick and choose what appeals to them and integrate those things into their speech, behavior, and appearance.

Here’s how mental health professionals define adolescent differentiation:

“Adolescent self-differentiation is the development toward an autonomous self, distinct from parents and peers.”

That’s simple and easy to understand.

But why is it so important?

Independence Strengthens Parent-Teen Relationships

This may seem counterintuitive.

But hear us out.

When you allow a teen to create and establish an individual identity, one thing that happens is that they become more confident in their ideas and perceptions. This can boost their self-esteem, decrease emotional reactivity, and improve communication.

Here’s how the experts put it. Differentiated individuals:

  • Express opinions in a non-confrontational manner
  • Accept contrary points of view without feeling attacked
  • Can discuss disagreements
  • Resolve conflicts
  • Disclose personal information with family and peers without feeling vulnerable

Research indicates these skills are essential to “successful individuation during adolescence and early adulthood.” Research further shows that the absence of these skills – or a lack of progress toward these skills – can lead to:

  • Chronic anxiety
  • Relationship dissatisfaction
  • Emotional reactivity in relationships
  • Problems with intimacy

To be clear, this article is about talking to your teenager. It’s not a deep dive into teen development. We share this research information because we want you to understand and take these next two phrases to heart when talking to your teen:

Stay in your lane and let them have theirs.

Here’s another way to say that:

You be the parent so they can be the teen.

The research – see the bullet points above – tells us that when you do that, you increase the chance that you can communicate openly and honestly with teens about things that matter to them. It also increases the likelihood that they’ll listen to and understand the things that are important to you.

Since open and honest communication is the foundation of any strong relationship, this explains why allowing teens their independence can improve your relationship with them. If it improves their ability to talk and listen without feeling defensive, attacked, or vulnerable to criticism, then it improves their ability to connect with you, and vice-versa.

Starting Conversations With Teens Who Are Reluctant to Talk

All that theory and development talk is great for your knowledge and understanding. However, what you might need are simple ideas about how to get a conversation going. Most parents know that a question like “How was school?” gets a response like “Fine” or “Eh, okay” or something along those lines.

Proactive parents who use conversational techniques by initiating daily conversations with prompts like “What was the high point of your day?” or “What was the low point of your day?” also know that after a certain point, many teens will tailor their answers to make these conversations easy. They’re still valuable, but the drawback is that they can lead to canned answers that sound authentic, but in reality, might not reveal what’s really going on with their teen.

Which is the whole point: finding out how your teen is doing, inside and out. With that in mind – finding out what’s really going on with your teen – we created the following list.

Five Tips for Talking to Your Teen

1. Do Your Research

That’s basically what you’re doing right now, which is a good sign. In this context, though, what we mean is research your kid. Find out what they’re interested in and learn some of the basic vocabulary and current issues related to their passions. For instance, if your teen is into Japanese Anime, have a look at the most popular publications and learn about them. Go one step further by finding out what comics they read and read them. The same goes for music, sports, fashion, or anything your teenager is into: develop some specific knowledge to use while you talk. Which brings us to our next tip.

2. Initiate Conversations Based on Their Interests

Use your research to start teen-centric conversations on teen-centric topics. The idea here is that you start a conversation on a topic they’re enthusiastic about, and you let them talk about it. Let them go off on tangents where you’re totally lost but know the basic lay of the land because you did your research (see Tip One). Engage enough to keep them talking. Ask for clarification, tell them how interesting their passions sound, and don’t resist getting into details if they start talking about something you know about. While they’re talking, use what they talk about as a launching point for an issue, a topic, or a question you want to talk about.

3. Active Listening

We want to be clear that a conversation is about give and take. Therefore, it’s okay to listen closely to their passionate monologues in order to find points of contact, which can turn into launching points for learning more about them. This is not the same as planning a rebuttal or thinking about what you’re going to say while they’re still talking – in that case, you’re not really listening. What we suggest is that you actively listen for topics within their passions that dovetail with things you want to know about them. For instance, if they talk about characters in their favorite TV show, use the relationships in those shows to bridge to a general talk about relationship dynamics. And if the characters in the TV show encounter current events in our society – cultural, social, or otherwise – use those fictional situations as an opportunity to talk about real situations.

4. Avoid Ambushes

This is directly related to Tip Two. If you have something serious you need to talk to your teen about, that’s a different type of conversation than the one we’re talking about here. Here, we’re talking about ways to get them talking freely and openly. You can talk about serious issues in these free and open conversations – but resist the urge to turn the conversation into a lecture on their behavior or admonishments about their grades, how they dress, or their new friends. That’s an unfair bait and switch – an ambush, as it were. When you do that, you undermine the chance that they’ll continue to talk freely and openly with you. The next time you initiate a conversation, they’ll be on guard, which is the opposite of what you want. You want to learn about the person your teen is becoming. To do that, you need to let them talk about the things they love. You can guide the conversation skillfully and thoughtfully, but if you guide it to a place where they feel like they’re in trouble, then that will have a negative impact on future conversations.

5. Share Things About Yourself

Backing up to Tip Two: when you find points of contact, tell your teenager what you think. Use examples from your life. Tell them about the things you were passionate about at their age. Reveal your teenage fears and insecurities. Tell them about loves, heartbreaks, and friendships. Tell them how you felt when your team won a championship, or how you felt when you didn’t make the varsity squad. When you do, use “I” statements. Tell them “I was…[scared, excited, angry, surprised, dejected, thrilled, confused, elated] when [insert event from your teenage years] happened.” We encourage you to rehumanize yourself in their eyes. But you need to do it without breaking the structure of the parent-child relationship. Be vulnerable without abdicating your parental authority. That can be tricky, but we bet you can do it.

Again, the list above is not about how to have a very serious conversation about a very serious issue. This list is about how to get your teen talking to you, if they stopped, and how to use the conversation to learn more about them. When you talk to your teen like this, you can re-open the lines of communication, and deepen the bonds between yourself and your teenage child.

Now it’s time to move on to the tease in the title of this article: a list of teen slang, updated for 2021.


Teen Slang 2021: A Concise List

Important note: a real live teenager reviewed and approved this list, based on this online resource.

25 Teen Slang Phrases Popular in 2021

  1. Thicc mean someone looks good.
  2. I’m dead means I’m dying of laughter.
  3. Heard means you really understand what someone just said.
  4. Finna mean you’re about to do something. From the southern “fixing to.”
  5. Fire means something is really good.
  6. Flexing means showing off.
  7. LMIR means Let’s Meet In Real Life. This is a red flag phrase if your teen is talking to someone you don’t know.
  8. CD9 is text shorthand for “I can’t talk because my parents are here.”
  9. AF is text talk for “As [insert F-bomb]
  10. Extra means over the top or dramatic.
  11. Capis a synonym for lie, as in being untruthful.
  12. No Cap means “no lie” or “for real.”
  13. Basic is an insult used to describe someone who only likes trendy or common things.
  14. Periodt. is text talk used to indicate finality…see the “dt.”
  15. Simp describes a guy who will do anything to get a girl.
  16. Yeet is an emphatic “yes.”
  17. Snack is a synonym for “very attractive person.”
  18. Snatched means someone has acquired something.
  19. Dank is a synonym for “very good.”
  20. Sus is short for suspicious.
  21. Spil The Tea means “tell me the whole story.”
  22. Swell means exercise or work out.
  23. Slay means doing something very well.
  24. Turnt Up is slang for getting drunk.
  25. OC is text shorthand for “open crib,” which means a house party with no parents around.

In closing, we’d like to remind you to learn these phrases so you know them – not so you can use them all the time. Unless, of course, you want to embarrass your teen in front of their friends. If that’s your goal – have at it!

But really, please, just don’t.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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