In the fall I had a group of mothers approach me after a seminar to ask me about what they were calling ‘picture texting’ as a cause for concern that their children were losing their grasp on the English language. I immediately realized that this is not about an inability but rather an intentional choice to move to what I call a teen dialect that helps evade oversight from adults.
The saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words” is certainly applicable here given our teens and tweens use of emojis and hashtags as an alternate language only comprehensible to each other. This is not by accident, but in fact, done intentionally to evade oversight from parents, schools, and AI technologies that haven’t quite deciphered the code.
Teens are as curious as they are creative, and they are certainly motivated to have privacy from the outside world. These qualities would be amazing if only they weren't creating dangerous situations as well.
Using emojis to talk about drugs, sex, and other questionable activities are just some of the cryptic ways teens are communicating with each other. It would be easy if this were a globally universal use, however, these emojis and hashtags are typically more of a regional dialect that takes hold in towns and districts. This means communications within these regions can be slightly different, making it harder to program powerful computer artificial intelligence tools to seek out and alert unsuspecting adults.
Josh Ochs, the founder of smartsocial.com has provided an emoji and hashtag list, which could never be fully exhaustive, but it will give you a good idea of the way our digital teens are developing a language all their own and help adults acquire fluency.
Ochs reported, “One of the most popular right now is the baseball cap and cap means the word, ‘lie,”‘ he said. “A student could tell their friend that they lied to their parents about where they’re going to be and they could use that baseball cap or the word cap.”
I have included some of the more generally known emojis below to get you started but I encourage you to talk to your children about this potentially dangerous form of communication. I never thought the quote about it taking a village to raise a kid was fully accurate until I saw the influence and immersion of the digital world reign down on our children.
If we all stick together, share our resources, and help one another this too can be just another milestone that we get through together.
👍It looks like a sign of agreement or “liking.” But depending on the context it can mean just the opposite: “F*#! You!”
🥑 Indicates someone or something is “basic.”
🐣 “I don’t care what you think.”
💫 “I feel dizzy.”
🍆, 🍌 Penis
🥴 Drunkenness or sexual arousal
🤡 “I’ve been busted!” (i.e. caught out)
🧠, 👅 Oral sex
🧢 A lie
💦, 🎤 Ejaculation, masturbation
🍃, 🌳, 🌱, 🥦, ✅ Marijuana
🍝 Indicates nudes (“noods”) being sent or received
👀 Nudes being seen or requested
🌶 “Hot” or risqué content
💅 “I really don’t care”
❄️ An overly sensitive person (“snowflake”), or cocaine
🔌 Drug dealer
😤, 🤤 MDMA (“Ecstasy” or “Molly”)
😵 I’ve seen something X-rated
🙆 Female orgasm
😮💨 Smoking, vaping
✍️ “Take my advice!”
🌽 Represents "porn," especially on TikTok
👻 Indicates being “ghosted” (dumped with no explanation)
🍁 Can be used to symbolize cannabis or drugs in general
👯 Can mean a girls' night out or as code for "sex worker"
🎪 Represents an erection