Five Words Kids Use Today That I Wish They Didn’t Know
What’s in a word?
Plenty, when some get tossed around with more frequency than others. Words – our framework of meaning – are every child’s first open windows to the world.
Watching my kids and their friends grow up, my ears burn to hear them use and abuse pet expressions. Context is everything. Innocuous-sounding words can be the worst offenders because of the background they come loaded with. But five words from the mouths of the young have garnered most of my loathing for what they have come to symbolise.
I recently overheard this brief exchange between two 11-year-olds (despite the fact the age limit for a Facebook account is 13):
“Is she your real, live friend?” “She must be somebody’s…. She’s my Facebook friend.”
Welcome to the most loosely thrown around word, thanks to Facebook, which overnight offers children hundreds of “friends.” These lazy liaisons are engaged in on our own time and terms; they don’t challenge or threaten us or nurture us in the way the face-to-face contact of real friendship does.
Virtual relationships can be true and supportive, but not when the drive is to rack up as many as possible (which it too often is). Our capacity to accommodate true intimacy is limited. One can’t befriend large legions and sustain each relationship with enough emotional nourishment to go round. Real friendship involves a qualitative and a quantitative commitment. The friendship of today’s social media era is only quantitative.
The “Now!” of instant gratification has emerged as a veritable battle cry of the young. Its brevity deceptive, this short three-letter word speaks volumes. It is a direct demand, an imperious expletive of the consumerist culture children are now steeped in. They want things now, they want your attention now, they want success now… The clamour is non-stop and relentless, frightening for the frantic urgency with which kids expect they are entitled to see every box on their wish-lists ticked.
I thought about including FOMO (fear of missing out) as a separate entry, but it comes from the same place. Kids today must be in the know 24/7, part of activities and events as they happen. The sharp explosion of news, literally at their fingertips, feeds FOMO. Whether a football score or personal news between pals, an instant and constant feed is de rigueur.
What this means is kids must always be ‘on,’ never off. There is no chance to rejuvenate, renew, recharge. They are also missing out on the art of appreciating a good story. When you’re so concerned about being a part of something, where is the time or inclination to sit and listen to someone else’s experiences and appreciate them for just that – someone else’s.
Hasn’t every exasperated parent heard this sad shrug of a word? Even ruder when shortened to “Whatevs”?
It’s an all-purpose response that enables kids to shut off from what they don’t know or care about or like. It allows them to keep their lives as curated as their social media profiles, but stops short of outright rejection. It’s not engagement. It’s not even disengagement. It’s whatever.
But maybe I’m being too harsh. The next time my kids say “Whatever,” I’ll try to remember developmental paediatrician Dr Vibha Krishnamurthy’s compassionate take. “They (kids today) have a tougher time understanding the world around, few leisure hours to mull things over, less outdoors to work off emotions, less time with parents to communicate and information overload from tech on top of it all! ‘Whatever’ is usually a cover – it means ‘I just haven’t had the opportunity to think about this or discuss it with anyone’ or ‘If I pretend I don’t care then no one will know how confused/ hurt I am by this.’”
This punishing word in the vocabulary of the young has somehow become the ultimate compliment, while “fat” is the ultimate slur, an indictment that condemns kids living in a value system that places a premium on physical appearance.
The age of camera phones, Instagram and YouTube savagely circulates countless visuals showing Thin Is In, dictating self-image and determining what it looks like to be accepted or rejected. Even if merciless media hype and body shaming doesn’t lead to extremes like anorexia and bulimia, damage is done to the spirit. Plump and thin boys and girls alike are sacrificed at the altar of thin.
The problem with the word ‘thin’ is that it doesn’t mean healthy. And it makes kids feel the need to belong to a club that ultimately fits nobody. They don’t learn to value their bodies and, by extension, their differences.
It’s the first, dismissive dart kids throw. We live in times that make the callow young think it all right to label anyone who appears a little different, or stands apart, a loser. There is no set criteria for judgment; everyone is an arbiter of this word, which can be used to describe a shy or gregarious kid, an overweight or anorexic kid, a high achieving or underperforming kid.
It’s a word that doesn’t challenge children to see where they disagree or dislike and then figure out a way to look past it. Rather, it allows them to write off entire, multifaceted personalities based on one little flaw.
All of these words allow children to classify, select, close off, in an immediate, superficial way. With these words in their mouths, they will never be challenged, never try, never learn and grow. What they will do is judge and demand. And don’t they have the rest of their lives for that?