The Importance of Speaking “Teen”

Note from Mark Timm, CEO Ziglar Family:  This week Jen Truitt, one of our Ziglar Family Coaches, is guest posting again, sharing some wisdom and insight about the importance of learning one particular “foreign” language: teen! As a former middle school teacher and mom to two teenaged daughters, she has some personal perspective to share.  


It was 1984, my sophomore year in high school, and my first day of Chemistry with Mr. Collins.

We weren’t even ten minutes into class when the man essentially dug his own grave with a room full of 15-year-olds by saying something like, “And if you’re wasting your brain cells by watching that stupid MTV, you’re going to fail my class.”

Now, if you are anywhere near my 40-something age, you know that pretty much every single teenager in 1980s America with access to cable television was watching MTV!  With those few poorly-chosen words, Mr. Collins instantly tagged himself as an out-of-touch adult who probably didn’t have anything else to say that was worth paying attention to.

Contrast that with Mrs. Fusco, my English teacher, who not only didn’t bad-mouth what we loved, she even used lyrics from our favorite popular music to teach literary elements!  (“She’s Like the Wind” is a simile, in case you were wondering!)

Years later, as I taught pre-teens and teens, and raised my own daughters, it occurred to me that I actually learned a valuable lesson from both of those teachers:

The best way to effectively relate to teens is to learn to speak their language.

 Let me be clear: notice I didn’t say you need to act like a teenager, or try to be best buddies with a teenager. Please don’t! That never turns out well.

But when you can demonstrate to your teens that you’re interested enough to at least attempt an understanding of what’s cool or hot, in or out, or even “on fleek” (yes, that’s a term), you’re going to gain a sort of respect that leads to them being more willing to consider you as something more than just another (eye roll) clueless adult.

I’m sure you’ve been told that when you travel to a foreign country, the locals really appreciate when you attempt to speak to them in their language or about their culture. It’s the same with teens!

As a matter of fact, some of the newer words and phrases teens use are kind of handy!  For example, I recently heard my daughter use the word “triggered” to describe how she was feeling angry or irritated about something that had happened — and I think that’s kind of a fun word to use back with her:  If you don’t pick up your room before you go to bed, I’m going to be pretty triggered. She laughs, but gets the point!  (And sometimes the room even gets picked up!)

 Now, a word of caution:  be sure you know exactly what a phrase means before you use it. I’ve been embarrassed on more than one occasion by using what I thought was an innocent phrase only to find out from my daughters’ horrified reaction that, nope, it’s not innocent!   (Hint: Netflix and Chill does not mean watch a show on Netflix and relax.  Just sayin’.)

Beyond new vocabulary, it’s good to have a sense of what your teens are reading and watching, too.  Whenever my students would seem to be really excited about a particular book, for example, I’d be sure to read it so I could talk about it with them — and sometimes sneak in a teachable moment without their even realizing what had happened.

Television, Netflix, YouTube — our teens are watching so much more than we can even hope to keep up with thanks to their smartphones, iPads, and laptops. Again, listen to what they’re talking about with their friends, and look into it yourself.

If you don’t like a certain program or movie, I’d suggest asking your teens about why they do, and being open to their response.

Of course, you’re still the parent, and if you choose to set some limits, you absolutely should — but you’ll be better received if you come at it from a place of, “I’ve seen this (or read about this), and here’s why I know this isn’t something you need to be watching…”

Maybe you’re a little uncomfortable with the idea of learning a new language, and if so, you’re not alone.  There are actually some really great resources out there to help you stay on top of what’s trending as “hot topics” with teens.

One of my favorites is an organization called  They offer a really cool free weekly newsletter called The Culture Translator, which focuses on keeping parents on top of teen trends.  (I’m sure my girls were surprised when I brought up the topic of Taylor Swift’s new music video with them — totally thanks to what I read from Axis!)

As I’m writing this post, Axis is right in the middle of an awesome Parenting Teens Summit, which is an online gathering of some incredible experts who are sharing their wisdom and equipping you to start conversations with your kids about faith, technology, media, and sexuality. You can check that out here, if you’re interested!  

So here’s my challenge for you: if you’ve got a teenager in your life, try to find one way to connect with your teen this week using his or her language.  You might mess up, pronouncing the word wrong or misunderstanding the meaning, but I am willing to bet that even as they giggle at your attempt, they’ll appreciate that you’re giving it a try!

Let me know how it goes by leaving a comment here — I can’t wait to read them!






















  1. Amanda Saum September 23, 2017 at 7:28 pm - Reply

    The term “triggered,” comes from therapy for trauma, like PTSD, and other emotionally scarring experiences. We learned that word in that context, where it is used to help patients become aware of what “triggers” their trauma response, so they can learn how to cope with that response in a healthy way instead of shutting down or re-living their trauma. Now it is used by people who are offended or joking. I would be cautious about using that word lightly if you don’t know all the teens in the group. It is good to know this new meaning from your article. Thank you.

    • Jen September 24, 2017 at 4:10 pm - Reply

      Thanks for sharing that, Amanda. It would be interesting to know how the word evolved into teen slang from its original use, wouldn’t it? I appreciate your feedback.

  2. Verónica carlos September 23, 2017 at 11:49 pm - Reply

    I love this.
    I have a 13 and a 17 year old daughter. They always come home with what I consider “out of this world vocabulary”- they refer to family as -my Pham- triggered like you mentioned and boiing people!. They were having so much fun making fun of me because I learned to dab, do the whip, the nene, and break a leg. Now,
    I keep this under the context of our beliefs. Refusing vulgarities but it makes a difference in the way they comunícate with you, because the translate this as mom is interested in our generation. I have embarrassed them at church in front of the youth since I’m also their youth leader. The youth tell them that they have the coolest mom ever. Is funny but kids connect with me because they think I’m crazy and ridiculous, but they know that I love them and will do whatever necessary to see their lives transformed by Christ.

    • Jen September 24, 2017 at 4:12 pm - Reply

      I still can’t dab, whip, or nay-nay! LOL! 🙂 I love what you’ve shared here, and yes, absolutely keeping it free from vulgarity is super important to me (which is why I need to be sure I stay on top of which ones ARE inappropriate, like the Nextflix and Chill thing!)

  3. Ebuka September 24, 2017 at 6:19 am - Reply

    This article is totally dope. Thanks for the website hookup on http://www.axis.or. Now my flow with teens is going to be so on fleek

    • Jen September 24, 2017 at 4:12 pm - Reply

      Ha! Excellent use of “on fleek”! (I think!) It’s – and yes, it’s awesome!

  4. Tami September 25, 2017 at 9:29 am - Reply

    I often will text Sydney that I was “shook” by something. She says that all of her friends crack up at me and think I am so funny. 🙂

    Also, I have heard this “triggered” saying recently in a show that I was watching. I am thinking that this is one of the ways that it is gaining popularity.

    All I know is once my kids have grown if you dare so mention raising teens I may need a trigger warning! haha

    Love your articles Jen!

    • Jen September 25, 2017 at 12:12 pm - Reply

      Tami!! Thanks for commenting and how fun to see you here! Yes, Abby read the article and told me I wasn’t using some of the words I should have, like her most recent fave: “lit”! I love that the kids laugh at us, because at the same time they’re recognizing that we’re making the effort! 🙂

  5. Amarachi Simon September 25, 2017 at 9:49 am - Reply

    This for me is an interesting read. I am learning again that the best way to relate with teens is to speak their language. I like the part of “understanding these terms in order to use them appropriately”. Its also important to note, as you mentioned, that speaking their language doesn’t mean endorsing all their actions and vocabularies, rather, it shows them that you’re really interested in them. It also qualifies you to set the boundaries from an informed perspective. And thanks for the link.

    • Jen September 25, 2017 at 12:10 pm - Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Amarachi! Glad you enjoyed it!

  6. Mickey September 25, 2017 at 11:09 am - Reply

    This article will help make us all hundo p lit when we talk to our teens.

    I had the same experience in high school in the 80’s with some teachers talking “about” and others talking “down” regarding MTV. I’ve volunteered at youth group for about 6 years and whatever it takes to open the door to get kids to talk. I was texting my daughter at college this weekend and she said she had sold her tickets to the football game. I asked how much she got for the “ducats.” She thought it meant tickets, but wasn’t sure until she went to the Urban Dictionary. I told her I was working on my street cred because “I wanted to stay lit – I would have said on fleek, but that seemed so 2016.” She read our texts to her roomies and had them cracking up saying they wished they had come to our youth group when they were in high school. In a weird way, she said that makes her proud. 🙂

    • Jen September 25, 2017 at 12:09 pm - Reply

      I love this a hundo p!! 😉

      Seriously, I know the teens get so tickled by our efforts to at least try! Way to go! And thanks for sharing!

  7. Amy September 25, 2017 at 11:40 pm - Reply

    As a former HS teacher and a mom of 2 13 year old sons I appreciate your words of encouragement. I am often repeating phrases my sons say and they laugh so hard. They love to get me talking about my days teaching in the hood, (a nice suburban school) where I can pat that weave with the best of them! My crowing moment this year was when I told my son’s favorite teacher if he wasn’t acting right to just “snatch his weave” and I would know what was up when he came home bald. He died in the moment but he secretly loved that I am not scared to talk the talk in order to keep our family times lighthearted! I want them to remember a home that was NEVER short on laughter even if it comes at my expense. Thanks for keeping it real!

    • Jen September 26, 2017 at 8:08 am - Reply

      Amy, that’s hilarious! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

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