Motherhood, insanity and everyday life.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006



If you can read that, you’re either 14 years old, spend way too much time on AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) or are intuitive in a strange and creepy way. No, folks, what I’ve written above might actually make sense to your teenage children and very little sense to you, which is exactly what your kids want. Welcome to the world of Instant Messaging, a universe filled with acronyms, emoticons and an alphabet soup-looking language that is seemingly way too complicated to understand, unless you’re a teen.

The power of Instant Messaging, or IMing as it’s known to your kids, is that it’s fast, it’s fun and parents don’t understand it. The genius of it is that, as you can see above, our kids have created this language that is so insanely abbreviated that we have virtually (pardon the pun) no interest in trying to decipher it. Right under our noses, our teens are carrying on conversations that are probably not as bad as we think they might be, but because it’s in this secret code, it kinda scares us. And don’t get me started about the potential of losing the ability to spell.

No more are teens hiding out in bathrooms or closets having secret conversations with the phone cord stretched to its limits. Now they’re sitting on the computer typing out something that looks like the dog walked across the keyboard. And they’re having these conversations with ten or more friends at a time. Yes, you probably have a gaggle of teens in your living room and you don’t even know it.

I first realized the power of IMing when we had a computer malfunction and my daughter screamed out: “What?! I lost my buddy list and I had over 200 names on it!!!” Now, I’m around my daughter’s friends a lot and I’m pretty sure that there aren’t 200 of them, but through the power of IMing, she’s talking to kids I’ve never heard of, let alone met. When kids meet new kids, they don’t exchange phone numbers, they exchange screen names. They add the screen names to their buddy lists and then they know when their friends, old and new, are online. If people leave “Away Messages,” they know what lots of these people are doing. It’s not unusual for me to sit in front of our computer and find out that “MrBagel” is taking a shower, doing homework or looking for food. Why they want to know this about each other, I’m not sure I understand, but it’s there for everyone to see.

It’s a little scary, but I’m trying not to panic about it or jump to any horrible conclusions. My daughter and I have regular conversations about who she should and shouldn’t speak to online and what she should or shouldn’t do. OK, correction. I say things to her about online safety and try and ask her as many probing questions as she’ll tolerate until I’m satisfied that she’s not IMing with pedophiles.

A while back I had the brilliant idea that I’d try and communicate with my kids via IMing. Since I was a fast typist, I thought it would be a great way to stay in touch with my son when he was away at college. For some reason, complete sentences are frowned upon in the world of IMing – my first inexplicable discovery. This is also when I found out about how they can block certain screen names if people are bothering them. At first I was irritated that I was blocked on my kid’s buddy list, until I realized that this was a good safety option for them to use against unsavory acquaintances with whom they had regrettably exchanged screen names.

It would be easy to dismiss IMing as a flawed and immature form of adolescent communication. However, I think it has its positive attributes. For one, unless they abuse the privilege of being on people’s buddy list, all kids are generally equal when they IM. It’s a world in which it’s not really important whether you are cute, skinny or wear the coolest clothes. For once, the power is in the hands of the quick and the clever and I can attest to friendships that have been formed and preserved through IMing. It also saves on cell phone bills, although perhaps at the expense of computer availability in a shared computer household. As with anything, it should be done in moderation. IMHO your kids will be ROFL if you give IMing a try. HTH, L8R! (Ask your kids what this means.)

*Translation: Oh my God! What Are You Doing?!)
**Translation: Between you and me, please explain that, as early as possible, because I don’t get it. Best of luck for what it’s worth because instant messaging, it’s a waste of brains, money and time, if you know what I mean. Gotta go, parent over shoulder. Stay cool.


At 1:13 PM , Blogger lifeasithappens said...

I used to be a teenager not long ago and remember my mom used to be harrowed with such things. In my times, messaging was just being introduced to kids in India (where I grew up) and parents were totally new to this phenomena! The coolest part about msg is that parents cant get it. favouite line... brb, pos!

At 1:23 PM , Blogger Free to Be said...

Hi Karen, here from Michele's today. I have two teens and can relate to this post. I'm still waiting for them to accept me as a friend on My Space!

At 1:24 PM , Blogger paulo said...

You should encourage your kids to type like English-speakers sometimes as well. A trend I'm seeing way too often is people who can ONLY type like this, and I'm talking about people past high school age. People are losing the ability to spell and use punctuation, among other things.

I'm not sure that IM-speak was designed so that parents can't read it. I think it's more of a lazy short hand way of communicating via text, but it's too soon to know if it's going to damage the language in general. I'm not hopeful, as people who use a language are the ones who shape it.

At 3:26 PM , Anonymous Maryanne said...

Great post Karen.
I actually have a cheat sheet that diciphers all these acronyms. I got it last year and it is very interesting. This is a new language the kids have created. If you want to be able to communicate with you kids, you might want to learn it. I forgot where I got the list, but I do remember I got of a blog.

At 6:43 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I teach Intro Psychology and Developmental Psychology and would love to use this post in relation to an assignment on adolescence. It was daughter will be entering middle school this year and your blog truly helps me get a prespective that doesn't send me looking for a xanex prescription. Let me know if it is okay to print and use this particular post. Thanks.

At 8:24 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you so much!!

At 10:53 AM , Blogger Gypsy said...

That is terrifying. What happened to the days when it was just various forms of LOL and BRB?

At 11:45 PM , Blogger Juliabohemian said...

I'm only 29 and this whole phenomenon is LOST on me. I don't feel the need for a cell phone. When I IM my sisters, I type in complete sentences. I don't understand why people need to waste valuable time text messaging each other acronyms.

At 6:26 AM , Blogger kenju said...

Karen, I left a comment here yesterday and I am surprised it isn't here now. Michele sent me back to say that I am so very happy that I don't have to try and learn that shorthand!

At 8:05 AM , Blogger Prego said...

THose things are wreaking havoc in the classroom, too. As an English teacher, I come across a lot of creative abbrevs. and creative splng.

kay bye


At 8:57 AM , Anonymous colleen said...

All I understand is LOL. But we did used to have codes and secret languages when I was a girl. And shorthand! What ever happened that?

This is much worse than trying to read vanity license plates!

hr frm mic.

At 9:06 AM , Anonymous archshrk said...

Hello, Michele sent me.

Thanks for posting this. I'm well aware of the IMing curse but few people articulate the issue as well as you have done.

At 9:38 AM , Blogger Tia said...

Oh my...! This makes reason #487 not to have children for me personally. I would definitely be reaching for the xanax or prozac trying to raise children in this day and age. My hat is off to ALL of you brave parents! For the past two years I've worked at a high school and I love the kids, but it is kind of scary what all they are exposed to nowadays - but that is slightly off the topic.

And I was one of those phone-cord-stretched-to-the-basement teenage girls.... =)

At 2:53 PM , Blogger ~Cathy~ said...

LOL... I think I'll stick with complete sentences when I chat. Shouldn't be too bad since I'm usually im'ing with other adults who don't mind!

Here via Michelle's... was supposed to stop by earlier! Sorry bout that!

At 4:01 PM , Blogger Janet said...

LOL, loved this entry! Lots of those acronyms were also used during the chat days ;-) not that I would, not me, pressssuh, not me.

At 4:02 PM , Blogger Janet said...

crap...I also meant to say, Hi, Michele sent me!

At 4:28 PM , Blogger Andy Mackay said...

oh my word - at the age of 24 I cant read that....I must be old...

At 7:18 PM , Blogger Christi said...


Your post made made me laugh out loud! (which i presume is abbreviated LOL) =) I love analyzing the IM'ing community. Everytime it never fails to ammuse me. I love how cultures evolve!!!

However, I have read numerous studies in which this language is actually affecting how children/teenagers are interacting in the world. Suddenly LOL is pronounced in speaking terms as el oh el and children/teens utilize it in conversation! It is also carrying over into written essays and papers as well (which I believe was mentioned in a previous comment). Suddenly children are utilizing these acronyms and abreviations in every day life! I suppose these may eventually just become typical day to day words, much as the word blog has been added to the dictionary (which previously was unheard of!), but I'm not sure if I really want to be around for the days when ROTFALMAO becomes spoken, proper grammar =)

Thanks for stopping by my blog the other day! I will definitley be back to yours! =)

At 8:47 PM , Blogger Nettie said...

Its a whole different culture our kids are living in. My 13 yr old son just started IMing. He was talking to a girl from school. He didn't mind me "listening in" and pointing out when something he was saying might be taken as offensive. Its a whole new way to develop social skills, too, I guess.

At 7:15 AM , Blogger Vickie said...

As a teacher in London, England, I'm okay with IMing, so long as they understand that their language isn't actually the English one. It's an abbreviated one. The trouble comes about when kids start to think that "u" is really "you". And "r" is "are" and so on.

Correcting these errors consumes far too much of my time to be honest!

Because I teach primary school, kids dont really have access to their instant msg'ing in class. The trouble arises in secondary schools, when the kids have the internet on their mobiles, so they are messaging online, as well as texting their friends during class. It's atrocious, but the kids here are way more in control than the teachers (in secondary anyway)! NOt much a teacher can do about it, when the whole population is doing it...

Makes for some serious underachievers sadly. But they sure know how to be social!

PS) Michelle sent me!

At 7:17 AM , Blogger Vickie said...

Damn, I just wrote a great comment and it 's lost.

AH well. Michelle sent me!

At 9:14 AM , Blogger kenju said...

Karen, Michele sent me back. I am still happy I don't have to decipher that.

At 10:48 AM , Blogger verniciousknids said...

(Michele sent me!)

At 7:20 PM , Blogger shpprgrl said...

I was clueless about what it meant. I'm not much of an im-er, but when I do I use the dreaded complete sentence. I am a text message junkie though! It lets me avoid talking at times when I don't want to, or simply can't. Here from Michele's!

At 7:36 PM , Blogger rashbre said...

AFAIK SMS is the basis for the IM codes. ATK of a phone shrt cds r btr. In Europe thy hv bn arnd 4 a lng tme but pred txt mns mre peeps use normal text in chat nowadays.


At 9:05 AM , Blogger Rene said...

My 40+ SIL will use this kind of language when she IM's me. What is acceptable for a teenager is repugnant in an adult. Considering the hours I spent on the phone with my friends, I can't imagine this is any worse. Keeps her off the phone. BTW, thanks for the translation.

At 9:26 PM , Blogger Marisa said...

How do you keep up with it all? Thanks for this perspective on the whole thing. I know someone who encourages her kids to chat instead of tie up the phone lines, but she also keeps the computer in the basement and doesn't mind that her 15 year-old daughter is "dating" a "boy" she me online, who lives in South Carolina.

It scares the shit out of me.

At 10:27 PM , Blogger margalit said...

I took IM off of our computer because I couldn't control the use. With two 14 year olds, the computer became off limits to me all of a sudden, and that wasn't cool at all!

But with that said, I've been on the net so long that I do know most of the netspeak so IM language isn't that strange to me. AAMOF, I have a t'shirt that says YKYAPW UR ROTFLOL at the CTTS on OTOH, YMMV*

And it's from 1990.

*You know you're a parent when you are rolling on the floor laughing about the cute things they say on On the other hand, your milage may vary.

Here via Michele.

At 9:35 AM , Blogger queen of light and joy said...

I was laughing so hard that a girl on the street heard me.

At 6:40 AM , Blogger Carmi said...

New technologies always seem to have an impact on the evolution of language. IMing seems to be continuing the trend.

As a writer, part of me is sad that this latest addition seems to be diluting the power of words, in effect boiling them down into bite-sized chunks.

But language is an ever-moving target, so the purist in me will have to accept the change - much as my grandparents no doubt did when I first explained to them about the first few personal computers that had appeared in stores in the couple of years before they passed away.

They got a glimpse of the change to come. I wonder what they'd think if they could have fast forwarded to today.

You always provoke such deep thought, Karen. Thanks!


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home