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Like, Ya Know, Literally: Why We Should Limit Our Teenagers’ Word Fillers

As fate would have it, I recently found myself as the front-seat-driver privy to five teenage girls in the backseat playing a game. The object was to talk about a given topic for one solid minute without saying the words “like,” “ya know,” or “whatever.” Topics ranged from the mundane (sweatshirts) to the icky (ear wax) and as they laughed their way through it, they all agreed that the game was surprisingly challenging.  (I swear on my copy of Do you Speak American? that I did not put them up to this.)

Our Gen Z’ers have a lot to say, and an unprecedented number of social platforms to have their voices heard. But, in our increasingly digital world, their communication is happening in text, with their heads-down glued to their smartphones. And when it comes to face-to-face conversation, they are literally at a loss for words, and filling pauses with filler words.

Like, Ya Know, Literally: Too Many Vocal Fillers

You’ve no doubt been exposed to the mindless repetition of words peppering the speech of our Gen Z’ers: “like,” “ya know,” “so,” “okay, “totally,” “actually,” “literally,” “whatever!” Valley Girl Speak has not only made it into the 21st century, it has become even more contagious and pervasive.

We all want to speak in a way that compels others to listen. But when we insert too many “likes” and “ya knows,” we lessen our credibility and invite unnecessary judgment. Whether it’s a school presentation, debate, college interview, internship or job interview – or just engaging fellow students in class – sounding self-assured and speaking articulately is paramount to being taken seriously.

We need a better game plan – or more games and better strategies – to help our kids practice the art of conversation, modifying their speech patterns so the sound of their own voices don’t get in the way of their success.

We Need Less Filler Words

According to Ita Olsen, recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities on human speech communications and founder of Convey Clearly, “Every person you know who is a great communicator worked on it. Why would we think we shouldn’t get better at communicating? It’s the one single pivotal thing that gets us what we need out of life! We take music lessons, we hire tennis pros, we go to the gym – we improve all aspects of ourselves.  Why do we think we should be born an amazing communicator?  We aren’t.”

Unfortunately, few things are more irritating, and met with more eye-rolls – from kids and parents alike – than constant verbal corrections. But, as parents, we have a responsibility. We need to help our kids speak articulately, with conviction, and without all of those filler phrases.

So, what are we parents to do?

We need to empower our kids to find their own authentic voice. We need to help them learn how to speak without riddling every sentence with filler words; to look a person in the eye; to shake a hand, to make a physical connection. And we need to provide the right tools to help them along the way. Mostly, we need to model good behavior ourselves.

Audrey Mann Cronin

Audrey Mann Cronin is a digital culture entrepreneur, a communications consultant, founder of community Our Digital Daughters. She is the creator of mobile app LikeSo: Your Personal Speech Coach.  LikeSo offers a fun and effective way to practice speaking confidently, articulately, and without all of those “likes,” and “sos.”  Click here to download it from the App Store. Visit her on Facebook @LikeSoApp and @OurDigitalDaughters and follow her on Twitter @LikeSoApp and @DigiDaughters.