Generation Gap: Kids as a Second Language

Category: Weekly Columns

Funny baby photo

How big is the generation gap, really?  What were the slang words of your generation? Mine included groovy and bitchin’ among many others. Every generation has its own slang, dress, general look, and of course, its own music. Every generation looks back at theirs as the best and I actually think this is a darn good thing. For young boys and girls, dressing differently than their parents, listening to different music, and generally speaking their own language is the first step on the road to independence.

The Art Linkletter Show

Once my boys became old enough to “run the radio” in the car, I let them and I began to learn their generation of music. Naturally, I disliked much of it, but there were those songs that defined their youth in my mind. The Hamster Dance and I’m Blue are two that immediately come to mind. Thankfully, neither of my boys ever fully embraced rap, though my older son did go through an Eminem phase up to and including cutting and dying his hair blonde to emulate Eminem’s look at that time.

Recently, I’ve befriended a couple of Urban Chicks. Sometimes, I literally have to beg them to slow down their talking because I can’t understand a word. I now employ dope regularly as they do when they describe something cool. Dope for me always used to mean weed or marijuana. When either of these 20-something gals takes over the radio, I’m lost simply trying to understand the lyrics that they often easily seem to sing along with – or rap with, depending on the song/artist.

cartoon about kids and sex

They can rattle off a list of favorite artists – as can my boys – and I don’t recognize a single name. Talk about feeling ooo-llll-dddd!

But, let’s examine a bit more formally the notion of Kids as a Second Language beyond just slang and vernacular. Our kids think differently. Duh. Consequently, what they say and express may often mean something very different to us. Yes, we all use similar words much of the time, but maybe we need a translator on occasion? Or, more practically, we need to rephrase what they are saying and ask if we “got” it right!

Toilet humor

My younger son seems to think dad speaks a foreign language when I’ll ask him something I think is very simple and he just won’t get what I’m asking or saying. I used to get mad at him and challenge him that he wasn’t listening. With therapist help, I finally learned that he heard differently and spoke a different language – almost literally.

This helped me get rid of the regular frustration I was feeling but still required special effort – or my wife’s involvement – to ultimately get my message across or understand his. This is not a joke. I am sure every parent has those times when our child simply confounds us. This isn’t a taste or style issue, but a communication one.

Funny kid photo with caption

Since our job is to be the best parent we can be, then it is more incumbent upon us to learn their language. Just as understanding our spouses can be difficult at times simply due to our inherent gender differences, so can it be with our children. So, as with our spouses, it’s often advised to repeat back to the person what they’re saying or asking, in our words, and find out if we understood it.

With kids, this is so important to prevent us parents from jumping to the wrong conclusion or acting angry or confused when we simply do not truly understand what is being said. It is really THAT simple! To do this requires patience, something I lack and have struggled with my entire life.

From the mouths of babes

How about going one step further and NOT jumping to a negative conclusion? How about NOT reacting in the moment. How about going to our spouse with what we think we heard and testing the waters a bit further? Most anything that was said does not need an immediate reaction so parents should be sure they really understand their kid’s language.

A helpful tool for me was all the years car-pooling the boys around. I relished that opportunity and usually kept as quiet as I could. Over time, the boys and their friends, would almost forget I was there. I picked up things – language, interests, and potential problems – that I might not otherwise have learned.

Advertising and Kids

The same holds true for our moderation of their Social Media lives. We have to have access to all their SoMe accounts, especially in the early years of their online connectivity. But, as I’ve advised before, when we are their Facebook “friend,” we NEVER must make our presence known or they and their friends will not only clam up but WE will get blocked, as well. This includes saying ANYTHING nice, too.

It is harder being a parent today. The economy is worse than when we all grew up and the assault on our kids from every corner of the world is 24/7 and over-whelming. Indeed, Kids IS another language. Unfortunately, they don’t offer it at Rosetta Stone so YOU have to learn it on your own!

How about skipping that $5 Starbucks latte and splurging $2.99 (for the Kindle on Amazon) or $2.79 for the PDF of my new e-book? Enjoy my own informercial for it! This e-book is really a virtual journey. It’s filled with 100 photos, 7 original videos, and links to many of the stops on the trip. Click on the book cover image below to find your purchase options: 

Book Cover from The Empty Nest

  • Jon M

    Yes, we have to learn it on our own! I agree… by being the driver of our youth, we learn a great deal by listening and trying to tie it all together. This a challenge for each generation of parents. I guess that is why we need lots of patience! Great post, Bruce!

    • Bruce Sallan

      Thanks @JonMertz:disqus – but learning “it” is half the fun, don’t you think?

  • Susan Harrison

    I know I’ve ‘made it’ linguistically with my kids, when we can hold conversations without a raised voice from either the teen OR the adult party involved!

    • Bruce Sallan

      You have indeed @google-d0ad22ab5228722b67f8b0de81d17ecb:disqus

  • Leah Mastilock

    great advice! I’ll file it away for when my kids are a bit older. I can hardly understand my much younger sisters. I never thought about how different my kids will be talking when they’re teens. Aaack!

    • Bruce Sallan

      Thanks @google-273c5e0365be1b80b9d548ebf1a1f109:disqus – enjoy EVERY day of the journey!

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  • EB

    Bruce, this post was dope! I haven’t gotten to this with my kids yet but I’ve noticed it with colleagues even just 5 years younger than I am. Times change and they’re changing faster than they used to!

    • Bruce Sallan

      Yeah @ebuttscpa:disqus – I’m chill with it, too…

  • J Dubya

    Some great ideas, and great observations! I’m right there with ya. -jwe

    • Bruce Sallan

      Is that you, Jerry? @4edd212567c75b025dba4a0d09fba7cd:disqus

  • David W.

    Would be a good book title–Kids as a Second Language.

    I have not even come close to learning, let alone mastering, the slang of the Millennial generation. I didn’t know “dope” was still used to mean “good” or “great,” however. I knew it was, but I thought that was a few years out of date now.

    I like hearing my students use their slang. I forget much of it, but it is very interesting to me to hear how they express themselves informally. “Cool” is still hanging in there, however, as is “dude.” The first time I heard “dude” was early in my freshman year of college, in 1970. So that term goes back at least that far. “Cool” is, of course, much older than that.

    • Bruce Sallan

      I chose this title actually thinking JUST THAT @disqus_dU5ulU60s7:disqus