Social and Interpersonal Development

Emojis: The Universal Language of Texting! What's Yours?

Delaney Ruston, MD
February 13, 2024
A girl typing on a phone with emojis floating in the air around her

For me, Valentine’s Day (which is, by the way, one of my top holidays) is about communicating our love and appreciation for people we care about — not just those we may be romantically involved with. 

Emojis are all about communicating. 

I used to be a Scrooge about emojis. I thought they were kind of dumb and didn't use them much. Then, I started using them and became enthralled by how much they helped me better express the intent behind my words. 

We all have different emoji-use styles — from complete nonuse to the most curated and abundant use. What are you? What is your child? And why is it even worth asking?

It is worth asking because emoji language is a serious thing. Emojis can be an extension of our hearts and minds — figuratively and literally. They can also be a source of laughter and better understanding, as well as a source of confusion and misunderstandings. 

Many argue that emojis have become vital to electronic communication, substituting human expressions by replacing voice tones, and facial expressions to enrich written text.

One young woman told me, “Emojis help with digital communication by expressing emotions that may be difficult to convey through text alone, as well as clarifying the tone of a message.”

I asked young people and adults to share examples of their emoji use, and I am now reporting my favorite responses to you. 

I can practically guarantee that you will have a fruitful and hopefully fun conversation if you bring up the emoji topic with your kids or students.

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How do emojis help with communication?

Adolescents speak up about parent emoji foibles.

One girl laughed as she showed me the emoji of the red face with a sweat drop 🥵. 

She explained,  “If I was texting my friends about some guy or whatever. I might use that emoji, but my dad uses it inappropriately because, in his brain, he just thinks oh, he looks tired.”

She offered another example of the skull emoji 💀 and how her dad was way off on that one. She said, “I use that when I'm laughing. It’s the same as saying, ‘Oh, that kills me.’ But my dad will use this literally to indicate death.” 

She added another example, and this one hit me personally. She said all teens know that the face with the tears 😭 means “laughing to tears.” Her dad (and me, by the way!) uses it to convey sadness. Oops

Which ones are your favorites to use or receive?

The other day my son shared a meme with me that was poking fun at dads, saying they only used one emoji — the thumb’s up 👍.

Indeed, when I talked to some boys yesterday, one of them said, ”My favorite emojis to use or receive often depend on the context of the conversation. However, I particularly enjoy using/receiving 🥹 to express warmth and happiness, 😂 for funny moments, 😭 for uncontrollable laughter or extremely sad, 🙏 for appreciation and thanks, ❤️ or 🥰 to signify love.”

What emojis do we find ambiguous? 

A friend told me that he likes to use a green heart 💚 with his female friends, and he reserves red hearts ❤️ for family or a romantic partner. I thought that was clever, but I also wondered if any of his female friends knew he perceived this differently. Meaning that the female friend might think there were romantic intentions. 

 “Emojis I find ambiguous are 😊 which can either convey happiness or suck up the pain with a smile, 😅 which either conveys relief or discomfort/embarrassment and 😉 which could either be flirty and fun or used after a sarcastic remark,” another teen told me.

How do emojis help communication within your family? 

A dad told me today that he likes the emoji in which a person has covered much of their face with their hand 🫢. He says it symbolizes the “really?!” he sometimes uses with his kids.

Another young woman said, “Emojis help digital communication by amplifying the expression of my emotions. Sometimes, picking up on someone's tone in a text can be tricky. That's where emojis come in handy, helping us understand and express ourselves.”

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What friends do we have that overuse emoji?

One girl gave me this interesting response: “I don’t have any friends in particular who overuse emojis, but I find that people will use them when they don’t know what to respond back and do so to keep the conversation going.” 

Do you know anyone who would be well served by starting to use them?

I spoke with a dad today who said that he used to not use emojis much, but he started seeing how his teens were using them, and he learned from them the value and now really likes using them, particularly the shrug one 🤷 and the eye-rolling one 🙄 when he wants to make fun of himself.

One boy in college told me the other day that he does not use emojis much but never minds when other people do. 

What are emojis each of us uses to express caring? 

One girl told me that she wanted to add more variety to her emoji repertoire and has decreased her use of hearts ❤️ and started using one of two hands to form the shape of a heart 🫶. 

She also told me that she has been with her boyfriend for two and a half years, and they still send sweet emojis back and forth, and she loves that they do. I asked what he often sends her, and she said, “He often sends the soft eyes emoji 😌 and blowing kiss 😘 ones and the faces with hearts around them 🥰.” 

How do you express if you feel you are not being cared for enough? One young man I interviewed said, which I thought was super cute, “I use the raised hand emoji 🙋 whenever someone hasn't really responded to me, and I want them to remember me and respond!“ 

Questions to get the conversation started:

  1. What do we think is the most used emoji? Smiley face? Thumbs up? Heart one? Other? (I tried to find a good source for an answer, but answers are all over the map. But it could be fun to try as a family to find data you believe in).
  2. What questions from the entire blog can we discuss today?
  3. Phones often store the most recent and common emoji a person sends in the emoji section of the device, so that is a good way to see what people use a lot and a good way to have a discussion. 

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Social and Interpersonal Development

Emojis: The Universal Language of Texting! What's Yours?

Delaney Ruston, MD
February 13, 2024
A girl typing on a phone with emojis floating in the air around her

For me, Valentine’s Day (which is, by the way, one of my top holidays) is about communicating our love and appreciation for people we care about — not just those we may be romantically involved with. 

Emojis are all about communicating. 

I used to be a Scrooge about emojis. I thought they were kind of dumb and didn't use them much. Then, I started using them and became enthralled by how much they helped me better express the intent behind my words. 

We all have different emoji-use styles — from complete nonuse to the most curated and abundant use. What are you? What is your child? And why is it even worth asking?

It is worth asking because emoji language is a serious thing. Emojis can be an extension of our hearts and minds — figuratively and literally. They can also be a source of laughter and better understanding, as well as a source of confusion and misunderstandings. 

Many argue that emojis have become vital to electronic communication, substituting human expressions by replacing voice tones, and facial expressions to enrich written text.

One young woman told me, “Emojis help with digital communication by expressing emotions that may be difficult to convey through text alone, as well as clarifying the tone of a message.”

I asked young people and adults to share examples of their emoji use, and I am now reporting my favorite responses to you. 

I can practically guarantee that you will have a fruitful and hopefully fun conversation if you bring up the emoji topic with your kids or students.

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