The generation gap, they used to call it. Now it’s the technology gap that is foiling parents in their attempts to maintain lines of communication with their tweens and teens. Have no fear, moms and dads, text messaging is here to save the day, or at least make it a little less stressful, and it’s easier than you think. (Texting, text messaging, instant messaging and IM’ing are all the same thing, although instant messaging or, IM’ing for short, are usually used for computer conversations, not cell phones.)

If you’re reading this, you’re likely comfortable sending e-mails. Well, texting is very similar but the idea is to keep the messages very short and to the point. To that end, a new form of spelling made up of acronyms and other shorthand references are used. It’s really old school if you think about it. Do you remember the rhebus, where letters and symbols were combined to create a “secret” message? Will U B mine, valentine? Well, that’s basically what texting is all about.

Texting is great for those times when you need to get a message across but a ringing phone is too intrusive. Let’s say your teen is at the movies but you’re running late to pick them up. You just send a brief message letting them know you’ll be x number of minutes late and they won’t be fretting and fuming (as much) when you get there. Likewise, if you’re in an important meeting, you can keep your phone on vibrate, and read a message and respond without a big interruption. It’s also great when you don’t want to have a big argument about your message or when your child is with friends and you want to communicate with them discretely (they appreciate that!)

Here are some of the basics:

First, any letter or number that sounds like a word can be used as that word – 4 example, u 2 can b a text wizard n no time. R u getting my meaning? Do u c what I m saying? It’s just a way of saving time, a big plus when your phone does not have a full keyboard (which is highly recommended, btw – oh, that’s short for “by the way.”)

Then there are acronyms. These are any combination of the first letters of words strung together. There are a bunch of standard ones, but you can make them up as you go along. Here are some of the most universal:

AFK – Away from keyboard
BFF – Best friend forever
BRB – Be right back
LOL – Lots of laughs
MYOB – Mind your own business
NBD – No big deal
NLT – No later than
ROTFL – Rolling on the floor laughing
TTFN – Ta ta for now
TTYL – Talk to you later
Now you’re ready to mix them all up. Use letters, acronyms and other symbols to get your message across. Remember getting notes from your secret admirer with X’s and O’s (for kisses and hugs?) Same thing applies here.

If you don’t understand a text, just send a ? mark back. If you want to show alarm or agree totally, use an !.

Mix letters and numbers:

U r gr8 = You are great
L8r = Later
*vn = Starving
B3 = Blah, blah, blah (also Y3 = yadda, yadda, yadda)
K = okay
U@? = Where are you?
Then there are the “secret codes.” You probably know some of them, but there may be a few that it would be good to know should you see your teen using them.
<3 = heart (look at it sideways)
20 = location (what’s your 20?)
404 = Clueless, no information
411 = Need information, spill the beans, give me the inside scoop
420 = Time to smoke pot, reference to marijuana
86 = Get rid of, toss
911 = Emergency, respond immediately (use sparingly)
9 = Parent is watching
99 = Parent is no longer watching, the coast is clear
Now that you have these basics under your belt, you can start texting like a wiz. Remember, most cell phone providers charge for both incoming and outgoing text messages… so if you need to have a real back-and-forth conversation, it’s probably best to pick up the phone. Check with your cell phone provider for packages or unlimited texting options.