If you see your teen using the term “lala bop” on social media or in a message, be warned that this online slang isn’t as innocent as it may sound.
Parents are likely unfamiliar with the seemingly innocuous term, leaving many caretakers to ask: What does “lala bop” mean?
“It’s used to bully and slut-shame,” Titania Jordan, chief parenting officer for Bark Technologies, a company that creates internet safety products, tells TODAY.com. “It’s used to ‘call out,’ whether true or not, ‘body count’ — meaning how many people somebody has ‘hooked up’ with or slept with.”
Jordan says the term originated from a 2021 song titled “Lala Bop” by rapper Almighty Rexxo, which features explicit, sexual language.
“Lala Bop” has appeared primarily in online posts on TikTok and X, formerly known as Twitter. It is also being discussed by concerned parents on Facebook and Instagram, some of whom have shared notices from their children’s schools warning caregivers that the term is being used to bully students.
Now, when users attempt to search for posts that include “lala bop” on TikTok, they are offered “no results” and are instead served with a content warning.
“This phrase may be associated with behavior or content that violates our guidelines,” the content warning reads. “Promoting a safe and positive experience is TikTok’s top priority. For more information, we invite you to review our Community Guidelines.”
TODAY.com reached out to TikTok, but they declined to provide a comment. The video-sharing platform has policies against harassment and bullying and removes content that promotes bullying; TikTok also offers a slate of support resources and tools for parents.
TODAY.com also reached out to X for comment. Press requests receive an automatic message: “Busy now, please check back later.” No additional response or comment was provided to TODAY.com by a spokesperson for the company.
What is slut-shaming?
“Slut-shaming (is) a form of bullying that criticizes one’s actual or assumed sexual behavior,” Dawn Bounds, a psychiatrist-mental health nurse practitioner and assistant professor at the University of California, Irvine, tells TODAY.com.
According to Jordan, social media apps and emojis have made it possible for teens to slut-shame their peers in a variety of ways that may not be obvious to parents.
“Those of us who grew up before smartphones experienced rumors flying around middle school and high school,” Jordan says. “It’s now compounded, and the negative effects are exponential and forever-lasting.”
One 2021 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that slut-shaming is “gender-base violence” used primarily against young girls and women, and can cause psychological and physical health problems.
The same study of over 600 girls between the ages of 10 and 18 found that 14% of participants had experienced sex-shaming at least once.
Jordan says parents may not even be familiar with the slang kids use to slut-shame, “like ‘smash’ (casual sex) or ‘thirsty’ (desperate for sexual attention).”
“It’s not just words and letters — it’s emojis, too,” Jordan adds, referring to various food items used to represent sexual acts or body parts.
“The first thing to do is to accept the fact that if you’re a parent, you’re now old and you’re not cool,” Jordan says. “You might think you know all the terms, but you don’t. Every day there are new things coming up that are not what they sound like. ‘Lala Bop’ sounds like a cute kid’s cartoon.”
How has the meaning of “lala bop” evolved?
While “lala bop” was first used to slut-shame others, Jordan says the term has now evolved “beyond sexual encounters, real and perceived” to include “overeating and really any other activity that might embarrass someone.”
Jordan says she has seen instances in which “lala bop” was used to shame someone who was diagnosed autistic and someone with what others assume to be an eating disorder.
“It’s pretty heartbreaking,” Jordan adds.
Bark Technologies, Jordan says, sends alerts to families using their products about online bullying situations, adding that the “lala bop” term escalated quickly once it started appearing online at the end of 2022 and beginning of 2023.
“Every day, we’re sending between 85 and 100 severe self-harm and suicidal ideation alerts,” Jordan says. “Those alerts are taking place for a variety of reasons, whether that’s text-based or social media-based or children writing suicide notes in Google Docs.
“Some of those instances were a result of ‘lala bop’ and ensuing conversations that happened because of that,” she adds.
What to do if your child is bullied online by someone using the term “lala bop”
Despite a parent’s best efforts, teens aren’t always eager to speak to their caregivers about topics or instances that can elicit shame and feelings of guilt.
One 2012 survey found that between 25-65% of children ages 9-15 years old who had been bullied online told an adult or family member about the incident. Another 2014 study found that anywhere from 9% to 25% of children say they would not tell anyone they had been a victim of cyberbullying.
“You need to empower them,” Jordan continues. “Say: ‘Hey, if this is ever happening to you, I want you to know that you can report it to the platform.'”
Jordan says it’s also essential for parents to discuss steps their teens can take when they see cyberbullying happening to someone else.
“Just because it’s not happen to you doesn’t mean it’s not important (to) stand up for what’s right,” she says, adding that this discussion provides parents with an opportunity to educate their child or children on “what’s right.”
“Is gossip interesting and intriguing and funny, sometimes, in the moment? Sure, but it’s actually not OK,” Jordan says. “(Tell your child) we don’t support it, and as human beings we need to be kind to each other.”
If a child does confide in a caregiver about a cyberbullying incident, Jordan says it’s imperative that the parent remain calm.
“Do not yell. Do not freak out. Do not break things, throw things or punish them in any way, shape or form,” she says. “If your child is a victim or a target … they need to know that they are loved unconditionally and that this (feeling) will pass.”
This article was originally published on TODAY.com