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Understanding kid lingo in texts and on social media

A tragic incident last month is shining a light on a potential issue facing every family.

Dr. Laura Berman’s son died of an accidental overdose after using Snapchat to buy fentanyl-laced Xanax. Berman posted a photo and message on Instagram and also shared her son’s story to alert other parents.

Her son’s friend alerted her to the drug connection.

This also raises the issue of how teens communicate online, perhaps using technology their parents don’t completely understand, and using codes to get around the watchful eye of adults.

You pick up your teen’s phone and see these in a text message: C-D-9; G-N-O-C; D-O-C.

Should you be worried? Well, those acronyms stand for, in order: Code 9, parents around; get naked on camera; drug of choice.

It’s all part of a language kids have developed to keep adults out of the loop.

“There’s definitely different things that can mean different things,” said David Urban, a student at Fort Myers High School.

Whether it’s acronyms, code words or emoji, kids are usually one or maybe two steps ahead of adults.

Fort Myers dad Dennis Egan understands that.

“They have literally a completely different language. They have abbreviations and different things for different words for sex, drugs and rock and roll, or whatever these kids do today…I don’t know.”

A wireless industry study found teens average more than 3,000 texts a month, with some exceeding 10,000.

Mom Suzanne Shorten knows parents are often left in the dark.

“These kids are exposed to so much that we have … we as parents have no idea about. I still can’t use this (shows phone) as well as these kids can.”

Rich Wistocki, a retired police detective, is an expert in teen communication, and says, “There’s a whole dictionary of secret terms that parents can download and compare them to what they’re seeing on their kids’ devices.”

For example, a “pepper” emoji means “hot stuff,” inappropriate content.

A pill can mean heroin for sale, and shifty eyes? Send a sexy selfie.

Wistocki says as parents, we’re often not aware of what kids are doing or saying.

“Parents suffer from a disease. That disease is called the n-m-k syndrome – not my kid. So when parents find themselves saying not my kid, that’s exactly when it’s happening.”

A parent’s first inclination is to punish their child for online behavior, which isn’t a tactic Wistocki recommends. He likes the “golden ticket.”

“The problem is, is that parents need to not threaten them into compliance,” he said.

Instead, let them know they won’t get in trouble and you won’t take their phone away if they come to you with an online problem.

There is software available to monitor your kids’ texting activity, but as they get older, they earn and deserve more privacy, which is why communication is key.

RESOURCES
BeSure Consulting: Training for Law Enforcement, Parents and Children
Bark Parental Control App: Parent Guide to Teen Text Speak Codes
Internet Safety 101: Acronyms Parents Should Know
DOJ: Online and Texting Safety Tips for Kids and Parents
FTC Consumer Information: Kids: Texting and Sexting

Reporter:Rich Kolko
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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