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Parents, do you know what these texts mean?

By Elizabeth Cohen, CNN Senior Medical Correspondent
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Websites translating teens' texts are an educational tool for parents
  • There's a huge disconnect between parents and kids, expert says
  • To demystify way teens communicate, parents urged to keep eye on texts, messages
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(CNN) -- Do you know what this means: %*@:-( ?

Or this: ~~#ZZZZZZ ?

If the answers are no, you're not a teenager who uses alcohol or drugs.

'Boy am I old'

Six years ago, Ryan Jones didn't know what the above terms meant either -- but that was before he became an expert in the shorthand teens use to communicate about their illicit activities.

It all began in 2004, when Jones, a software engineer, received some odd instant messages at work, using terms such as "idk" and "lyk." It was all Greek to Jones.

Jones, a computer programmer in Allen Park, Michigan, quickly realized the messages weren't from his boss -- they were from his boss' children who were hanging out at the office with their father for the day. As a joke, they'd gone into their dad's AOL account and sent silly, innocent instant messages to everyone in the office, and none of the adults could understand the shortcuts and slang.

He later learned "idk" means "I don't know" and "lyk" means "like."

"It was a real 'boy am I old' moment," Jones remembers. "But then it occurred to me the slang was actually really creative and saved time and keystrokes. I was talking to some of the other programmers, and we thought it would be a cool idea to start a website that had translations of the slang that kids use."

Jones created noslang.com in 2005, and as more readers have submitted terms related to drugs and sex, what started out as a fun little lexicon of innocuous shortcuts has become a valuable educational tool for parents to learn about what their children are up to.

Hate letters from teens

Children across the country are heading back to school, and new research from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America shows that a third of parents are concerned computers and texting make it harder to communicate with media-engrossed teens about sex, drugs, alcohol and other risky behaviors. This is a particular concern for many parents, especially considering another new report, from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, finds 5.7 million public school students attend gang and drug-infected schools.

Jones has now made it his mission to help parents detect when their children are discussing dangerous activities online.

In his online dictionary, there are thousands of slang terms related to drugs and sex (there are 88 drug shortcuts beginning with the letter "a" alone). "A- boot," for example, means someone is under the influence of drugs, "cu46" means "see you for sex," and "gnoc" means "get naked on cam," meaning a webcam.

"Whether you're a parent, teacher, law enforcement officer or simply a concerned friend -- it's important to stay up to date on the latest drug-related slang terms," Jones writes on the website.

You won't find every drug- and sex-related term on Jones' website. While readers have submitted thousands of examples of slang, he refuses to include ones that are just too disgusting.

"You should see the things I reject on a daily basis," he says. "Some of this stuff is pretty vulgar."

After they read through his dictionary, parents appreciate the education, Jones says. "Parents write me thank you notes all the time, and I occasionally get hate letters from teens," he says.

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden agrees that parents need to wise up to what their kids are saying to each other online. His office has made more than 100 presentations about understanding teen online communications.

'A huge disconnect'

"There's a huge disconnect between parents and kids," says Wasden, who makes presentations to parents and teens about how to communicate safely online. "For parents, there is a mystique about technology, but texting is the standard way [teens] communicate with one another."

To demystify electronic communications among teens, Wasden suggests keeping an eye on your child's texts and online communications, whether it's via instant messages or Facebook.

You'll be in good company if you do. According to a recent study from the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, 64 percent of parents look at the contents of their child's cell phone.

This may seem overbearing, but remember: Looking at what your child says online could keep your child out of a dangerous situation.

"I'm the parent," Wasden says. "If I have to choose between having my child upset with me or having them be victimized, I'm going to chose for them to be upset with me every time."

Of course, it doesn't help to read what they write if you can't understand it.

"There's a broad range of terms that even vigilantly monitoring parents may not recognize," says Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "Kids are developing their own language and don't want anyone to know what it is."

If you see terms that are unfamiliar to you, go to one of several translators and dictionaries that help parents decipher the terms that teens use in chat rooms, text messages and instant messaging boards.

You can find teen lingo translators from the state of Idaho, noslang.com, teenchatdecoder.com, netsmartz411.org and 1337Talk.com.

Groups such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Parents. The Anti-Drug, the Partnership for a Drug-Free America and the Office of National Drug Control Policy have lists of street terms and slang, including those specific to drug or sexual activity.

Once you get the hang of the language, you can try your hand at translating a real message found by Susan Shankle and Barbara Melton, co-authors of the book "What in the World Are Your Kids Doing Online?"

The message reads:

"1 w45 50 j4ck3d up |457 n16h7. 1 5c0r3d 50m3 cr4ck 47 7h3 p4r7y 50 1'd h4v3 17 f0r 70n16h7 4nd 70m0rr0w, 4nd 7h3n J1mmy 700k 0ff w17h 17, 7h3 455h0|3! 1 4m 4|| j1773ry 4nd n33d 70 m337 up w17h y0u 70n16h7 4f73r my p4r3n75 7h1nk 1 4m 45|33p. c4n y0u m337 m3 47 b0j4n6|3'5 47 m1dn16h7 ju57 f0r 4 f3w m1nu735? 1 ju57 n33d 4 |177|3 4nd 1 c4n p4y y0u b4ck 0n m0nd4y, 1 pr0m153."

Translation:

"I was so jacked up last night. I scored some crack at the party so I'd have it for tonight and tomorrow, and then Jimmy took off with it, the [expletive]! I am all jittery and need to meet up with you tonight after my parents think i am asleep. Can you meet me at Bojangle's at midnight just for a few minutes? I just need a little and I can pay you back on Monday, I promise."

CNN's Sabriya Rice contributed to this report.

 
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