How to Interpret Emojis

Today’s children are growing up in a world that is more technologically connected than at any other time in history, and they are increasingly spending more time communicating through digital means. 

Texting, instant messaging and emailing have added convenience for anyone who needs to communicate a message, but so much of the verbal and non-verbal cues we rely on during in-person conversations are lost in digital communication.

Think of the last time someone sent you the dreaded text that reads, “Ok.” That short, direct reply often leads us to think that person is upset. It’s impossible to interpret the sender’s tone of voice, facial expression and body language. 

Then enter the introduction of emojis…Emojis are digital images or icons that convey an idea or emotion. Now a layer of non-verbal cues exists to interpret what someone else is really trying to communicate. According to a recent report, 54% of Gen-Z use emojis in their texts frequently and 41% admitted that they help provide context. 

Over time, however, emojis have also been used to communicate messages more discreetly–think code messaging so others can’t easily decipher a message. Often, a few emojis strung together can communicate sexual, suggestive actions. 

If you encounter unknown emoji messages on your child’s devices, don’t panic. Chances are your child may not fully know what she is saying or receiving, or your child may be using the emojis as intended (a taco means she just wants to eat a taco). Nonetheless, it’s still important to be an informed parent, especially before you talk to your child about messages you’ve observed. The list of suggestive emojis that are used is long, frequently changing and may vary by region. However, having a general sense of what popular messages are being used will give you a good place to start. 


Talk to your child about the emojis they use and receive regularly from their friends. Ask if they have ever received a message that they didn’t understand. Has an emoji, or series of emojis, been sent that doesn’t seem to fit the context of the texting conversation? 

At an age-appropriate level, share how emojis can be used in harmful, suggestive ways. Ensure your child that you are a safe person to come to if they receive explicit messages or images. Explain the importance of reporting an incident immediately to a trusted adult. Use this opportunity to share that beyond emojis, receiving or sharing sexual images can have a lasting impact. 

It is important to never take a picture or video you wouldn't want the general public to see because even when it's not sent to another person, it can appear in unknown locations. If it is shared, it can last forever. If a sexual picture of someone underage is sent, the recipient is just as responsible for the image as the original sender and may face legal charges. Remind your child that incidents must be reported prior to deleting content. 

While conversations with your child about these topics may be challenging or uncomfortable, they are necessary if your child has access to any kind of messaging. 

As you navigate these conversations with your child, consider reading Abstinence Clearinghouse’s blog, What is Sexual Integrity or the Truth Series, as they are designed to help guide future conversations with your child about pursuing purity and sexual integrity.

For other resources, as you have conversations about purity with your child, view our full online store.