Making Sense of Teen Dating Lingo

Parent's Guide to Terms Like Ghosting, DTR, and More

If you feel like you need a translator when you hear your teen talk about their dating relationships, you are not alone. The majority of parents struggle to make sense of the words teens use, like ghosting or cuffing, to describe what is happening in their world.

But if you want to provide insight and advice when they are talking to you, it is important that you have a good grasp of what it means if your teen says their significant other is "ghosting" them or has "left them on read."

Teen dating lingo
Illustration by Brianna Gilmartin, Verywell

Common Terms

No longer is it enough for parents to know just what sexting is. Now, you need to add in "benching," "53X," and so many more terms to your vocabulary.

The digital world has created an entirely new language of love that threatens to leave parents in the dark unless they essentially become bilingual. Here is a parent's guide to your teen's dating terminology.


Ghosting occurs when someone your teen is dating suddenly stops contacting them. It is usually the result of this other person being too afraid to tell your teen that they do not want to take things any further or that they want to end the relationship.

So, instead of communicating directly, they start behaving like a ghost. When this happens, your teen often checks their phone incessantly looking for a response back, a text, or some sign of life.


Zombieing occurs when the person who ghosted your teen suddenly makes an appearance in their life again. It is like they have come back from the dead.

In other words, the person will suddenly start liking or following your teen's social media, texting, or displaying some interest in your teen but not giving a full-on approach to rekindling the relationship.

Slow Fade

This approach is supposedly a kinder, gentler way to ghost someone by slowly fading from the picture. When a slow fade happens, your teen's love interest gradually fades away by making less and less effort to connect. The end result is longer and longer amounts of time between replies.


Cuffing most often occurs during the winter months when teens are looking to get in a committed relationship. The goal is to have a boyfriend or girlfriend over the holidays and on Valentine's Day.

Teens may use this term to describe a friend who is seeking out a significant other so they are not alone on romantic holidays.


When teens use the term curving, they are talking about rejecting someone's romantic interest in them. They could also use it to talk about how someone responded to them. The teen may answer messages inconsistently or take a suspiciously long time to reply, then provide mild excuses for their lack of response.


DTR stands for "define the relationship." When teens use this term, they want to have a conversation with their significant other about where the relationship is headed.

Are they a couple? Are they ready to announce it to the world on social media by updating their relationship status? These are the things teens discuss when they use the term DTR.


Deepliking is a way for your teen or others to show that they like someone by scrolling through old social media posts and liking them. These likes are usually on photos and posts that are months or sometimes even years old. 


Benching, or breadcrumbing, occurs when someone a teen has been dating or talking to suddenly stops agreeing to meet in person. However, the person still contacts your teen through text, direct message, and over social media.

Basically, these people are trying to keep your teen on the bench while they play out their other options.

Make sure you tell teens to watch out for anyone that keeps them in limbo this way. This is a sure sign of an unhealthy relationship.

Left Me on Read

When your teen is "left on read," what this means is that they can see that their significant other has read their text message, but has not responded—sometimes for days. This is frustrating for teens, and adults for that matter, especially if they were discussing something important.

Leaving someone on read can be a somewhat passive-aggressive way to control the relationship or conversation and an early warning sign for teen dating abuse.


Perhaps one of the easiest terms to decipher, talking means the couple is getting to know one another and sometimes even casually dating. Both parties are interested in having a relationship and are trying to determine what they have in common and if it should go any further. It also means that they are not yet in a committed relationship but only testing the waters at this point.


The acronym IRL stands for "in real life" and means that the relationship has progressed from just talking or texting to an actual, in-person date. Most teens only date people they already know offline through school, clubs, or other venues. However, it is common for the beginning stages of flirting to occur online before progressing to an "official" in-person date.

Netflix and Chill

To parents, it may sound like the couple is just meeting to hang out and watch television together. But it could mean that their plan is to meet up and make out or have sex.

If you hear your teen use this term, you might want to investigate a little further to see what is really up.


Although not used as often as it used to be, jelly stands for jealous or envious. And even though they are using a different word to describe feeling jealous, the emotions are still the same.


Thirsty means being desperate for something, usually referring to someone's desire to hook up or have sex. For instance, someone might say: "He is so thirsty."


This term is used to describe someone who is over the top or dramatic. Generally, this is not a complimentary term and is often considered a criticism.


Like "extra," the term basic is not generally used as a compliment, but instead used as a criticism of another person who tends to like anything that is trendy or popular.


If you see this in your teen's text messages or direct messages, you need to know that "53X" is leet speak for "sex." Leet speak is a form of communication that replaces common letters with similar-looking numbers.

It is a good idea to investigate a little more to see what context it is being used in and what your teen meant by the code.


This acronym is short for "get naked on camera" and is often used to pressure someone into sexting or sharing explicit photos.


If a teen says they are looking to get turnt or turnt up, this is code for teens wanting to get drunk or high. Beware if you hear this term in the context of your teen's conversation and start asking questions.

Why Teens Use Their Own Lingo

Many people assume that teens use slang or their own lingo to hide things from parents. But while this may be true in some cases, having their own language so to speak is more about identity than it is about keeping parents out.

In fact, some psychologists liken it to fashion. Just as teens would rarely wear their parents' clothing, the same is true about using their words.

Think back to your time as a teen. Did you use your parent's terms to describe things? Probably not very often, if at all. Using your mom's words to describe something could be on par with wearing mom jeans.

For the most part, teens use their own lingo as a way to create their own identity, fit into certain social groups, and express their independence.

But keep in mind that slang is always changing and evolving. What's more, in what feels like no time at all, the list of terms you see above will be outdated and replaced with an entirely new set of terms.

Remember, it is normal to have special phrases and terms to describe things. Every generation has done it. And most likely, they will keep on doing it. After all, parents today were once strange teens and used weird words like "totally" all the time.

A Word From Verywell

Aside from understanding what your teen is talking about, knowing the latest lingo that teens use to describe their dating experiences is useful knowledge for parents. Not only does it provide insight into what is happening in your teen's life, but it also equips you with the background information you need to share helpful advice.

For instance, when teens are being ghosted by someone, it can help to have someone put this into perspective for them. Even though teens have a new way of describing what is happening in their world, their needs are still the same. Sometimes it helps to have a little guidance on how to navigate the confusing aspects of dating.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Giordano PC, Soto DA, Manning WD, Longmore MA. The characteristics of romantic relationships associated with teen dating violence. Soc Sci Res. 2010;39(6):863-874. doi:10.1016/j.ssresearch.2010.03.009

  3. Pew Research Center. Teens, Technology, and Romantic Relationships. 2015.

  4. Fabjančič T. Catch Me If You Can! – Slang as a Social Phenomenon and the Issue of Capturing It in Dictionaries. ELOPE. 2010;7(2):27-44. doi:10.4312/elope.7.2.27-44

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.