By Kelly Wallace, CNN
(CNN) I think I noticed it when my daughter, now 10, was giving a presentation to her class. Suddenly, I heard the word “like” come out of her mouth after every few words.
I cringed, but also knew there was nobody to blame but myself.
You see, I too have struggled with saying “like” much more than is necessary. You can also add “you know” to my list of verbal fillers that offer no benefits to my speech, nor my sense of confidence and authority.
Now I was faced with my daughter having picked up my bad habit, and I didn’t know what to do about it.
But I knew I wasn’t alone.
In the seventh installment of our CNN Digital Video series “Parent Acts,” we asked parents and their kids to act out how they use the word “like.” We then had a parenting expert listen to their role-play and weigh in with advice.
10-year-old Keira Kiley in New York City, and a classmate of my daughter’s, said that when she uses the word, her father is quick to point it out to her.
“If someone asks how my day was, I’d say, ‘Well, my day was, ‘like,’ and he’d be like, ‘like’.”
Tricia Ferrara is a licensed family therapist and parenting strategist who has been in private practice in the Philadelphia area for more than a decade. She says that parents probably can’t prevent their kids using “like” and other words that are “part of the culture,” but says being attuned to how our children are conveying themselves to others through language is extremely important.
“This default to pop language, if kids say ‘whatever’ or they are inserting ‘like’ in several times, it diminishes the message. It diminishes what it is that they want to say,” said Ferrara, author of “Parenting 2.0: Think in the Future, Act in the Now,” a guidebook for parents with step-by-step advice on how to strengthen their relationships with their children.
“When I have a teen that I’m working with and I hear them using ‘like’ a lot, I’ll show them the comparison of saying something that’s meaningful and inserting ‘like’ 15 times,” said Ferrara. “[I] then recast the same statement without it and say to them, ‘Which one is more powerful? Which one do you actually hear?’ And they’re stunned at the difference.”
When she had pulled out the “likes” from the dialogue, the teens could see how much clearer the message was and that’s exactly the lesson Ferrara showed Kiley, demonstrating two ways Kiley might convey how much she loved her younger sister.
“I like my sister because I kind of like that we love each other and, like, and I like that and it’s, like, we fight and, like, we make up, and I really, like, love her,” Ferrara said. Then she offered Kiley a version without any extra “likes.”
“I care about my sister. I love my sister. She’s important to me, and even though we fight, she is a very dear person in my life,” she said. When Ferrara asked Kiley which statement she thought was clearer, she picked the one without all the likes.
“That’s what’s going to help the situation, because they see the value in it, and not because Mom or Dad said so,” said Ferrara, herself a mom of twin teenagers.
A ‘FitBit for your speech’
Audrey Mann Cronin has spent her career in the communications business, media training countless executives not only to convey a message, but to do so in an articulate and conversational way.
The way people speak has always been on her radar, she said, so two and a half years ago, when she noticed her teenage daughter — who was always very well-spoken and poised — starting to use “like” between every other word, she freaked out.
“I thought, ‘Oh, no, not her. Has she now fallen into this verbal trap, and how do I pull her out?'” said Mann Cronin, a mom of two. “She’s such a good girl and I didn’t want to pick on her, and I have a son, who’s younger, and I thought I want to pull her out of this trap before my son falls in.”
Mann Cronin, who founded the site Our Digital Daughters to focus on the impact of the digital culture on young women, decided she wanted to do something about all the “likes” and “you knows” and “whatevers” that girls and boys are using in their conversation.
As a communications consultant in the consumer technology space, she set out to create an app that might help. The result was mobile app LikeSo, which officially launched in March this year and can be downloaded from the App store for 99 cents.
A teenager (or an adult with a problem like this correspondent!) can talk into the app and then receive feedback, such as a list of which fillers — such as “like,” “actually” and “you know” — they used. They can also get a score, such as 92% articulate, with a total for how many fillers were used as well as the pace of their speech.
The app also contains conversation starters in which teens can pick categories such as “Pop Culture Favorites,” “On the Menu” or “Speed Dating.” The teens then speak for 30 or 60-second intervals and pass the phone around, getting feedback on how many fillers they did, or did not, use.
“We call it speech fitness,” said Mann Cronin. “This is your personal speech coach. We’re thinking about it as being like a FitBit for your speech, and so it’s about speech fitness and being aware and practice.”
We may urge our kids to practice soccer, their spelling, or the violin, but we don’t spend much time getting them to practice having a conversation without saying “like” five times, Mann Cronin said. “The single most pivotal thing we can do in life to get us ahead is to be an inspired, confident, articulate speaker to compel other people to want to listen to us.”
Language plays a role in how we are perceived, and that starts at a really young age, she said.
Mann Cronin describes one incident during an election to be class president at her daughter’s school. One girl whom her daughter really liked got up to speak, but then ended up saying “like” so many times that Mann Cronin’s daughter whispered to a friend that she didn’t think she could actually vote for the girl.
The app is now being incorporated into the syllabus for oral communications programs at a number of colleges and universities across the U.S., said Mann Cronin. Career centers on college campuses have also expressed interest in offering the app as a tool for students as they prepare to be interviewed and network.
After all, think about two students who may have the same exact qualifications for a position and formally interview with the company.
“When you’re face-to-face or even on Skype, or whatever it is, and you don’t speak confidently and articulately and the other person does, who’s going to get the job?” Mann Cronin asked. “It matters.”
What do you think is the best way to try to get kids from using ‘”like” all the time? Share your thoughts with Kelly Wallace on Twitter @kellywallacetv.