A Guide to Teen Texting (for Adults)

Shorthand has been around for centuries. Long before secretaries and court stenographers used it, Cicero, Martin Luther and Shakespeare all composed work in an abbreviated written or symbolic language. Today, digital devices have spawned a new kind of shorthand: texting and emojis. For many teens they've become the preferred way to communicate—not least because their coded nature helps keep grown-ups out of their business.

Texting codes can have multiple meanings, potentially confusing or alarming for those not privy to a message's full context. "It's lit" can be an appreciation of something great, while "get lit" often means to get high. The shorthand KMS (kill myself) can signal suicidal thoughts, but more often it's far less dire—an overdramatic declaration of "I'm gonna kill myself because I got a bad grade" or simply "I can die now because I got a selfie with Justin Timberlake."

On one hand, says Los Angeles-based psychologist Stacy Kaiser, texting lets young people think through how to say something: "You can think of 10 different ways to break up in a text versus when you do it verbally. You can survey your friends before you do it." On the other, she says, quickie thumb-stroke communiqués let teens give in to their more impulsive instincts—which they may regret later.

Herein, a guide to common texting terms:

A Guide to Teen Texting (for Adults)