11 Jul 2013

Do you know WTF your children are saying online?

Parents are failing to get a handle on internet slang, new research says, making it more difficult to detect if children are involved in dangerous or illegal online practices. So how much do you know?

You don’t have to be as inept at text speak or internet slang as British Prime Minister David Cameron (who used to sign off his texts to Rebekah Brooks “lol” until she told him it meant “laugh out loud”, not “lots of love”.)

According to the new research, commissioned by knowthenet.org.uk, the fast-moving pace of slang is leaving parents behind. On average 30 per cent of parents, from a group of 1,001 surveyed, are unable to correctly identify the meanings of commonly used internet terms.

At the same time, 81 per cent of more than 1,000 children surveyed are using such internet language.

How many do you know?

Whilst terms like “lol”, “OMG” (oh my god) and “rofl” (roll on the floor laughing) are more easily recognised, some slang that can be used for more sinister means are where parents score the lowest.

(Parents) need to have some understanding of what’s going on so that they can … support their kids through some of the greyer aspects of our cyber lives. Phil Kingsland. knowthenet.org.uk

Knowthenet.org.uk, which published the results of the survey on Thursday (see infographic, right), warned that it is the less well known terms that parents should be aware of.

Only 8 per cent of parents were able to correctly identify the meaning of LMIRL (see definitions, below) which could indicate a child’s intention to meet up with a stranger they met on the internet, 28 per cent knew the term POS, and 27 per cent knew the meaning of ASL.


Concerns over grooming and the sexualisation of children have risen in recent years. Last year a Channel 4 News investigation discovered that a children’s online game, Habbo Hotel, was being used for pornographic sexual chat, and there was evidence the site could be being used by paedophiles to groom victims.

At the end of last year, David Cameron promised firm action against a “silent attack on innocence”, including a tougher stance on access to pornopgraphic websites.

Phil Kingsland, site director at knowthenet.org.uk said: “Parents may find it frustrating that web language moves so fast, but they need to have some understanding of what’s going on so that they can engage with and support their kids through some of the greyer aspects of our cyber lives today.”

The survey was carried out by research company Opinium, and surveyed parents of 10-18 year olds via a multiple choice quiz.

Internet definitions 

Frape: a conjunction of Facebook and rape, meaning logging onto someone else's Facebook page without them knowing (usually to post content whilst pretending to be them).

Trolling: repeatedly posting offensive remarks on social media forums.

YOLO: You only live once, as in "I'm going bungee-jumping, YOLO".

POS: Parents over shoulder, ie. "my parents can see what I am doing".

ASL: "Age. Sex. Location".

LMIRL: "Let's meet in real life".

The research also found a lack of concern or awareness from parents over certain internet activities, such as “torrenting”, the illegal downloading of copyrighted content, such as music.

42 per cent of parents did not know the meaning of the word, and 35 per cent of parents said they were not be concerned if their child said they were going to “torrent a song/album”. The survey of children found around a third had downloaded illegal content in the past.

Top tips

Knowthenet.org.uk has created an online test where you can see how well you know the languade of the internet.

It has also offered three top tips for staying on top of your child’s internet activity:

1. Familiarise yourself with the language. Knowing the terms children are using can help you understand what they are doing.

2. Talk to your children, ask about their internet activity and whether it relates to school work or social conversations with friends. You could also ask them if you hear an unfamiliar term.

3. Look it up. There are plenty of resources online that will explain the meaning of online words, such as knowthenet and urbandictionary.