Is the 'Teen Texting Code' the Newest Moral Panic?

May 26th 2017

Mike Rothschild

Since the advent of internet culture, parents have struggled to keep up with what their kids were doing online.

First it was chat rooms, whose mysterious lingo and anonymity sparked cautionary moral panics over child molesters prehaps luring unsuspecting underage minors.

After that, parents and the media alike obsessed over teens exchanging text messages, and figuring out what they were REALLY saying.

The fear of teens communicating with mysterious terms goes at least as far back as this 2007 ABC article, called "Cracking the Teen Texting Code," which saw parents fret about "leetspeak" terms like "WTF" and "OMG" along with the giant phone bills their kids were racking up.

Now, there's a new list of "sneaky teen texting codes" and when to worry about it, which was published in May by USA Today.

From the looks of the sexually charged acronyms, it seems like teens are finding craftier ways to sneak out of their houses, meet up for sex, and keep it from their parents. Among the terms that the paper runs down are seemingly random strings of letters and numbers, such as:

53X = sneaky way to type "sex"

KMS = kill myself

LH6 = let’s have sex

KYS = kill yourself

CD9 = code 9, parents around

GNOC = get naked on camera.

LMIRL = let’s meet in real life

1174 = meet at a party spot

IWSN = I want sex now

CU46 = see you for sex

MPFB = my personal f*** buddy

PAL= parents are listening

GYPO = get your pants off

But teen salaciousness has been the subjects of innumerable moral panics, from rainbow parties and sex bracelets to butt chugging and vodka tampons. In each case, their existence was nearly impossible to prove, despite the cascade of news articles and warnings about them.

Even the USA Today article seems to hedge a little on whether teens are actually using these codes. The list was compiled from terms analyzed by a company called Bark, which the paper describes as, "a safety app ... that monitors sites and services teens use for red flag words."

But Bark's list (which comes in a more expanded version on its website) doesn't contain the numbers of how often each term is used, nor does it discern the context of their usage. Are the teens who use this lingo serious? Or are they just being sarcastic? Or does it mean something else entirely?

The USA Today article's author, consumer tech columnist Jennifer Jolly, quotes data analyst Brandon Wirtz, CEO of machine-learning service Recognant. ATTN: reached out to Wirtz to confirm their usage, and while Wirtz couldn't provide exact data, he generally played down the "sneaky teen texting" trope.

"Yes, it is hype," Wirtz told ATTN:. "The same sex legends come up in variation all the time."

He called comparisons to another legend parents likely believed, which was that supposedly boys would "snap" girls' bracelets off to get a "sex coupon" that could be redeemed at a later time. News reports bear out that the panic over these bracelets was entirely in the minds of parents and school administrators. "Kids never played snap with the bracelets, either," Wirz told ATTN: in reference to the urban legend that girls wear different colored bracelets indicating what sexual acts they're open to performing.

In a more anecdotal bit of evidence, Jolly ran the terms by her own daughter, who said it's mostly used as a result of embarrassment or sarcasm.

So if teens aren't actually using them, where do they come from? Unsurprisingly, most lists of "teen texting terms" are derived from previous lists of teen texting terms.

A previous version, CNN's "28 Internet acronyms every parent should know" contained a number of the same terms that can be found on Bark's list.

It was greeted with bafflement by employees at E!, who wrote a response to the CNN list, that detailed their mostly failed attempts to decipher unknown terms like "IWSN," "NIFOC" and "CU46."

CNN's list cited several other lists, including NetLingo's "Top 50 Chat Acronyms Parents Need to Know," along with one from "" and "Cool Mom Tech's 99 acronyms and phrases that every parent should know."

And like the Bark list, none of these had any information on how often and in what context the terms are used. They're just lists of things parents should know about, with little indication as to why.

So it's likely that any panic over teens using incomprehensible codes to meet up for sexy time is overblown. For parents who are concerned about what their teens are texting, there are a variety of apps available that enable text messages, internet searches, and calls to be tracked.

There's also just talking to them about what's OK and what's not OK as far as their phone usage.