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Sneaky teen texting codes: what they mean, when to worry

16-year-old Jeneva Toolajian, daughter of columnist Jennifer Jolly, texts on her iPhone in Oakland. CA. (Photo: Roddy Blelloch Special for USA Today)

16-year-old Jeneva Toolajian, daughter of columnist Jennifer Jolly, texts on her iPhone in Oakland. CA. (Photo: Roddy Blelloch Special for USA Today) less

(USA TODAY) - If your teen has a smartphone, chances are they spend several hours a day on text and social media. If you ever look at what they’re actually doing on there, you’ll likely see a lot of innocent “Snapstreaking,” some funny Buzzfeed videos and a bunch of letters and numbers that look like some kind of modern-day shorthand.

 

You probably use some of these yourself:

LOL = laugh(ing) out loud

GR8 = great

IRL = in real life

TYVM = thank you very much

IMHO = in my humble opinion

BRB = be right back

J/K = just kidding

L8R = later

NP = no problem

WYD= what you doing?

While most of these terms are completely innocent, some child safety experts warn there can be more than meets the eye with texting codes. Some strange texting lingo might double as code for suicidal thoughts, bullying, sex and drugs.

“The stakes are high, and today’s parents need new ways to safeguard their teens from the harmful side effects of online interaction,” says Brian Bason, CEO of Bark, a safety app parents and teens download that monitors sites and services teens use for red flag words and the context they're using them in.


The Bark safety app uses machine learning to help red flag worrisome codes or language. (Photo: Bark app)

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide is the second leading cause of deaths for young adults and adults ages 15 to 34. In recent years, the problem of teen suicide has taken on a new dimension in part due to the proliferation of technology.  "We teach our kids to look both ways when they cross the street. Don't talk to strangers. We need to do the same thing for children with digital uses," Bason says.

Bark analyzes some 10-million teen messages per month across 21 different platforms including text, email, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube. Here’s the most recent list of the top “sneaky” terms that teens use, according to Bark’s data:

53X = sneaky way to type "sex"

KMS = kill myself

LH6 = let’s have sex

KYS =  kill yourself

MOS = mom over the shoulder

POS = parent over shoulder

CD9 = code 9, parents around

GNOC = get naked on camera.

99 = parents are gone

WTTP = want to trade photos?

LMIRL = let’s meet in real life

1174 = meet at a party spot

IWSN = I want sex now

CU46 =  see you for sex

FWB = friends with benefits

ADR = what’s your address

MPFB = my personal f*** buddy

PAL= parents are listening

TWD = texting while driving

GYPO = get your pants off

I ran a bunch of these by own teenage daughter, who I’ve also tested the Bark service on recently, along with Netsanity,Net Nanny, TeenSafe, Limitly, and many “watchdog” apps over the years. (The perks of being the child of a tech reporter...) In her experience, teens use terms like KMS and KYS mainly to describe embarrassment — “I just spilled soda all over my jeans, I want to KMS” — most of the time it’s totally sarcastic and nothing for anyone to worry about.

One former data scientist agrees.  “GNOC was typed a massive 4,384 times on Android phones in the U.S. in 2016,” says Brandon Wirtz, now the CEO of artificial intelligence and machine-learning service Recognant.  “In 1,986 of those times the next word was ‘means," — suggesting people were curious about the lingo but not acting on it.

Bark’s  Bason says that’s why it’s so important to add context and conversation to the shorthand teens use. He says spying on kids' conversations simply does not work, but a mix of education, communication, and modern tools, often can. “We’re not just flagging known texting code though, we’re using keywords, data science, and machine learning. If it detects potential issues, the app sends an alert to your phone via email or text, and then offers solutions to help with the presented issues.”


Bark app notifications. (Photo: Bark app)

Whether you plan to monitor your kids or are want help deciphering the latest text codes, online website Netlingo is a great resource. It even hosts a curated list of “the top 50 acronyms parents need to know.”

Jennifer Jolly is an Emmy Award-winning consumer tech contributor and host of USA TODAY's digital video show TECH NOW. E-mail her at jj@techish.com. Follow her on Twitter @JenniferJolly.

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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