We all have memories of secrets hidden from our parents and other grown-ups, of wanting to mark out the territories in our lives where they were not allowed to go. Sometimes these can be physical spaces, whether a private meeting place or a den or the sacred inner sanctum of a teenager’s bedroom, and sometimes the boundaries are more conceptual.
Language serves this purpose beautifully. In the past, youngsters have used back-slang, pig latin and other fabulously creative inventions to be able to communicate in ways that they suppose adults cannot understand (forgetting that they were once kids too!). I have known groups of children construct highly complex language codes which could be spoken and written fluently by the chosen few.
Every youth sub-culture in our past has had it’s own idiomatic style, from hep cats to mods, to punks, to rude boys to yardies. Each generation will throw up a selection of tribal alternatives for us to explore in the search for our own individual identity. So I wonder why each generation continues to be appalled by the linguistic trends of the next?
These days of course, the tut-tutting can happen across several media. Not only do we give our youngsters a hard time about the way they speak to each other, but we can also badger them about sloppy use of language in texts or lazily doing away with words altogether in favour of emojis.
I think we should have a little more faith. Of course there are a few individuals who hang on to the vernacular of their youth, but most of us just grow up. I trust that our youngsters are smart enough to know the difference between communicating with their peers and when the situation calls for something a little more formal. The shift in language to accommodate speedy texting is hugely creative problem solving - after all language is a changing, morphing thing - and I get quite excited about the role that emojis can play in including our ever increasing population with many and varied learning disabilities. Slang serves the purpose of a tribal badge of identity, it shows you’re one of the gang, distinguishes you as part of the crowd, and keeps the unwanted excluded. This has been the case throughout history.
So much of being a young person is trying to find your place, wanting to fit in. What your friends think of you is pretty much the most important thing in the world, and that depends on your ever developing sense of self and your place in the social hierarchy. Identity is something that is forever shifting and morphing, it’s not a static state, but the sense of it being something secure, a core of being able to rely on and be certain of is exactly what our young people are trying to achieve.
I guess what I’m trying to say here is just: Don’t Panic! Let them communicate in ways that might offend your ears and eyes, don’t butt in, certainly don’t try to join in - but do try to include them in your big grown-up conversations too - however they choose to express them, their opinions do matter.