Hidden in Plain Sight: a Parent’s Guide to Teen Texting

One of the most common things that kids do with technology is send text messages. Even as far back as 2010, Pew Research reported that 72% of teens engaged in texting. And while some parents may review the messages sent on their kids’ phones, it’s all too easy to avoid leaving incriminating messages behind. One of the trickiest ways that they do this is by using “secret code words” that are really everyday words, but with hidden meanings. These messages look completely harmless, but have a darker meaning that is usually only known by teens.

One of the earliest ways that teens texted in code was using Leetspeak, a method of using similar looking letters and numbers. This is still used widely in social media apps to try to avoid online monitors, both human and automated, from identifying inappropriate words. For example:

The downside to this approach is that if someone happens to be looking over their shoulder and sees text like that, their mind notices it and it could cause them to ask questions that the teens don’t want to answer. By using everyday words with a meaning known only to them, the teens are less likely to bring unwanted attention to themselves.

Hiding in Plain Sight

Before you continue with this, please know that some of the examples I’m about to use may be uncomfortable for parents to read. Also know that my examples aren’t mean to imply that these words/phrases are always used in this way. Sometimes, when a teen says that they want pizza, it means nothing more than a visit to a local pizza shop is imminent.

Below are some of the examples of code words using by teens, with their explanation and an example of how it might be used:

BOB: An acronym for Battery Operated Boyfriend.
Example: She’s been spending a lot of time with BOB lately.

Bunny: An abbreviated form of a “Rope Bunny” – someone who likes being tied up.
Example: I’ve been hoping to find a cute bunny lately, but no such luck!

Chocolate: A black person.
Example: I’ve been craving chocolate a lot lately!

Headache: When a person, usually a male, is aroused and looking for sex.
Example: Man, I wish that I could do something about this headache. It just won’t go away.

Little: A person who pretends to be much younger than they are chronologically. The difference can be years or even decades. This person is often in search of someone who is looking to take care of them (not always sexually).
Example: I woke up feeling very little today.

Mary Jane: Another word for marijuana. Also known as MJ.
Example: Has anyone seen MJ lately? I’m looking for her.

Pet: A person who likes to be cared for, often in a submissive role.
Example: I’m looking for the perfect pet. Anyone? [Done in a chat room]

Pizza: A euphemism for sex. The idea is that there is no such thing as bad pizza and there is no such thing as bad sex.
Example: I really need to get some pizza today!

Smash: To have casual sex.
Example: Whenever I see him, I just want to smash him.

Your Turn

Below are three possible texts that have very different meanings compared to what they appear to be. Also included are multiple choice answers with their real meanings indicated afterwards.

Self-Test #1: I absolutely love corn, no matter how it’s done.

  1. Male genitalia.
  2. Pornography
  3. Something without alcohol.

Self-Test #2: Turtles are my favorite pet. Who doesn’t love them?

  1. A shy, introverted person.
  2. A person with a tough shell (personality).
  3. A person who will spend a lot of time on their pack (having sex).

Self-Test #3: I’d really love some spaghetti right about now.

  1. Someone who is straight when dry (sober), but gay when wet (drunk or high).
  2. Someone without a backbone – an easy pushover.
  3. A person of Italian ancestry.

Answers to Self-Tests #1:B. #2: C, #3: A

Takeaway

It can be very difficult to decode such messages because they look so innocent. And many times, they are innocent. It may take seeing several exchanges to finally understand the true nature of what’s being said between the people. The most likely place parents should watch out for these kinds of code words is on social media apps like Whisper or in a chat room.

My best advice is to confirm the intent by looking at an ongoing exchange, rather than after seeing only one possible coded message. The next is to focus more on educating them on the potential dangers involved with sexting, including sextortion and revenge porn. This video shows the potential consequences of sexting when images are included. It shows just how quickly and easily the images can go viral, being seen by many people, perhaps even by the original sender’s friends and family.

Once such images are distributed, getting them removed from the Internet is virtually impossible. It’s one reason why I say that when it comes to technology problems like sexting, an ounce of prevention isn’t worth a pound of cure, but an immeasurable amount of cure. And like any other activity that teens may do with technology, parents can teach their children a better way with patience and by keeping informed on what the risks are to their children.

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