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Why Bots, Gifs and Emojis Are Your Kid's New BFFs

Photograph by Getty Images/Blend Images

The promise of technology has always been to make everyday tasks easier and faster. Once upon a time, this meant microwaves and remote controls, but now digital tools can cut just about every corner, including those involving communication. When you can say everything with an emoji, why bother meeting in person? In fact, many millennials prefer texting over talking.

While most adults would agree that face-to-face contact is important, there's no doubt that online communication continues to change how we find, form, and maintain relationships. But the truth is, teens have always had their own codes, slang, and shorthand that adults weren't meant to know. Now, in addition to cool catchphrases, they have an arsenal of tools that can sum up a sentiment in one image. While we don't want our kids to lose the art of conversation (especially at the dinner table), we can't deny the power we keep in our pockets and purses that has transformed the way we connect—or disconnect. This is only a sampling.

Bots: If you're familiar with Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa and Microsoft's Cortana, then you know bots can eliminate drudge work. Bots live in other apps teens love, such as Kik and Messenger, but the Google Assistant from the messaging app Allo is unusually helpful to the busy teen. Assistant lets you choose from pre-written responses to comment on photos and continue conversations with a single tap. For instance, if a friend sends a photo of her new dog, you might get two response choices: "Cute Labrador!" or "Nice dog!" Though it seems easy enough to come up with your own reply, bots will undoubtedly be able to generate more complicated choices in the future based on the personal information it collects—all while booking your flights, ordering food and keeping you on schedule.

Breakups: Though the Dear John letter is mostly a thing of the past, ending a relationship in writing is not. Before telephones, this made sense, but now breaking up via text is commonplace, though cold. Even social media sites are starting to recognize that a breakup affects online communication and connections. Facebook is trying to ease users through these challenges with new choices. You can "see less" of a certain someone or "take a break" from seeing that person's posts before deciding whether to "unfriend" altogether.

Texting shorthand: If you have FOMO when everyone is ROFL, then you might need to remember YOLO. And if you don't know what any of that means, you can check out our glossary of texting acronyms so you can be in the know. Teen slang is nothing new, but texting has taken it to a new level of brevity. So if typing out a whole sentence just seems like too much, there's a whole alphabet soup of shorthand that captures many reactions and ideas.

GIFS and emojis: We used to "say it with flowers," but now we have super-short looping videos of bouquets and tiny pictures (including roses, violets, and lilies!) that we can send in a matter of seconds. Somehow, a brief movie clip can convey a whole attitude and—if used wisely—give us major feels. And though text messages are generally shorter than emails, and emails are generally shorter than handwritten letters, images and videos are currently the most expedient way to express yourself, which teens love.

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