Round Table: Oh Shit! Swearing and Kids
This month’s topic is: How do you handle swearing in your family? We all do it, whether we want our kids to do it or not. And every parent has a different idea of what swearing means in their family. Share your own story in the comments!
I don’t believe that “swear words” are necessarily bad. Despite a conscious effort to avoid swearing, I sometimes let words slip. I do catch myself saying cute replacement words like fudge and sugar, but sometimes I drop the “F” bomb.
My general house rule about words is that they should be used appropriately, in context and without the intention to hurt others. Saying “fuck” because you stub your toe or spill your coffee is different than calling someone a “fuckhead” or telling someone to “fuck off.”
I do make a conscious effort to not use racist language (e.g. the “N” word, other derogatory words for race or cultural identity, ghetto as an adjective), ableist language (e.g. the “R” word, lame, spaz, crazy), homophobic language (e.g. the other “F” word that rhymes with hag and bag) or sexist language (e.g. fireman, postman, cunt), because I don’t want my children growing up thinking it is appropriate to use words that hurt and marginalize or to perpetuate the use of words in our vernacular that reinforce discrimination.
I curse, a lot. Cursing is almost as natural for me as breathing. I’ve never held back from cursing in front of Pickle either, so he pretty much knows all the words. He also know how and more importantly when to use them. (Three years of school and I haven’t gotten a call yet.)
When I picked up cursing it was a conscious choice to not be the polite young lady everyone wanted me to be. It was a declaration that I was (am) my own person. With time this has moderated slightly. I will still give my opinion as I see fit, and will curse as is necessary to express myself. Really isn’t that what any language is about? Often you can infer a lot more about what is being said based on word choice.
It’s for this reason that I am very deliberate in how I handle Pickle cursing around the house (I’ve never noticed anywhere else). I won’t tell him that it’s a “bad word,” I hate that phrase with a passion. Words are not “bad” or “good,” words are tools, they can can be handled appropriately or inappropriately. I have asked him if that is a word that he should be using, and he admits that it was a bad choice. I want to make sure that in a few years when he looks at me and says “What the Hell, Mom?” that we are both on the same page.
When my kid was a toddler, one of her uncles cussed in front of her, and then smirked at me. “Guess I shouldn’t say the f-word in front of your kid, huh?”
“Say the f-word all you like,” I said. “Just stop saying the n-word.” (Which he was very prone to do.)
This took him aback. But yes, like Steph, above, this is the rule in our house. Hate-speech is what we avoid — though frankly to this day I have trouble with misogynistic words, as those are the words I grew up hearing (the b-word especially; my kid calls me on it every time, though, which helps). General cussing is fine. As Hank Green notes, in one of his vlogs, research even supports the health-positive aspects of it!
When my kid was little, we had the rule that she could not cuss until she was fifteen. This was mainly to protect her at school. However, once she reached the age of reason (which was eleven or twelve, as I recall) that rule went out the window. “I know not to cuss at school,” she told me, rolling her eyes. And: “If you didn’t want me saying these words, MOM, maybe you shouldn’t have said them so often.”
Good point, kid.
Swearing isn’t a big deal in our household, partially because neither Mou nor I really swear, and partially because we don’t actually care if Rose swears. Blaspheming and inappropriate song lyrics are another story however, not because we care but because everyone else does.
We couldn’t care less if Rose says “oh my god” or any other forms of “blaspheming” at home, since we are atheist and it’s essentially meaningless. Unfortunately, the majority of the kids and teachers at her school are religious and I don’t really want to get into a thing with other parents about my child’s language (and I do actually believe in religious tolerance and not needlessly offending people). So, I have become very conscious of what I say, and without making a big deal out of it, substitute words so we now sound like a sound clip from a 50s musical … “Oh my goodness me!” “Oh my giddy aunt!” “Oh golly gosh!”
Rather more inappropriate is the fact that Rose loves to sing along to all the songs on the iPod and many of the songs have fairly crazy lyrics and a lot of swearing. She tends to like the edgier pop songs out there, and there is nothing quite like a six year old singing along to Rihanna’s “S&M”. I don’t even know how to begin to explain to her why I don’t want her telling the local grocery store clerk that “chains and whips excite me” so I’m doing a total cop out and surreptitiously deleting songs from the iPod whenever she is not looking.
My oldest child will be 4 in January, so we’re just getting to the “potty mouth” stage, literally. When her cousin visited recently, they conspired together to use the words “poo poo” and “pee pee” as often as possible. Clearly, this is hilarious. As other Grounded Parents have said, we don’t prohibit the use of most words in our family. This seems to give the words more power. (There are some exceptions, like the N-word and other racial slurs, and the C-word. Fortunately our kids have not been exposed to these yet.)
We’ve been advising our daughter that rather than saying her little brother looks like a silly poopy, it would be more apt to describe what he actually resembles in that moment, for example a “messy-faced baby.” We’ve also explained that if she’s in a particularly potty-mouthed mood, she can feel free to go in her room and utter the words to her heart’s content.
Finally, my husband and I are learning to set the examples we want followed. We’ve totally turned off the F-word in the presence of our children, as it would be quite a hassle if they learned the word and realized that it was garnering a lot of attention. I’d rather not be the mom with kids that love to drop gratuitous F-bombs in public. On occasion, I’ve let “shit” slip around them and the daughter delightedly repeats it. When this occurs I say, “this was a word mommy should have said in her room!” Then I make no further ado, because of course making a big deal out of anything makes it more exciting.
My 3 ½-year-old daughter seems to have the vocabulary of an average middle-school-aged child, so I think she’ll be just as talkative as I am. I hope both children will continue to develop rich vocabularies, and grow into articulate adults who realize that there is a time and place for swearing, and when they do swear, to make it count!
With my first child, I was pretty diligent about keeping the curse words to a minimum. My son, who is 10, currently says “fudging” when he gets mad, which I find delightful. But his non-swear swears aren’t always successful. Last year he called someone an “a-hole” in class because he thought those absent s’s somehow made the word acceptable.
I’ve been less successful with my daughter. I think she could drop the f-bomb properly when she was two. Like — Fucking bedtime! Aw, fucking bath! I blame it all on my husband, of course. For a while, I tried to sell her on “zut alors” but she never took to it. We finally got diligent about curbing the curse words recently and eventually she stopped saying it. Now if you curse in front of her she yells, don’t say it!
So far, actual swearing doesn’t seem to be much of a problem for our boys. We don’t swear much in their presence, and they haven’t picked it up in the rare cases that we have slipped. We have days, though, where “poop” and “bottom” seem to be the only words the boys remember, and we try to pull them back on that. It’s not just the potty-relatedness of the terms; it’s also just fatigue with overuse.
D went through a phase a while ago where he answered every question with “Oink”. There’s nothing remotely naughty about that word, but the continual overuse of that word got under our skins enough that it might as well have been “motherfucker”. Fortunately, it was only a phase.
Like others in the group, I’m less concerned about naughty words regarding sex and toilets than I am about words that denigrate or demean others. Again, this hasn’t come up yet, but I’ll be much harder on the boys for “fag” or “slut” than I will about “fuck” or “shit”.
As someone who practically learned the “7 words you can’t say on TV” at the feet of the master himself, or at least his vinyl equivalent, I’m a fan of most “swear” words on general principle. When I was in elementary school kid, growing up in my particularly Catholic corner of the midwest, we had an almost embarrassing aversion to any language that could be construed as blasphemous or sexually naughty. “Darn it” could get you sent to the assistant principal’s office, even in public school. Fuck, shit, tits… anything on George Carlin’s brilliant list would be treated with a level of alarm we currently reserve for terrorist attacks. Profanity was one of those forbidden fruits like sex, tobacco and alcohol/drugs that children were hypocritically denied while at the same time they were celebrated in popular culture. Then we were expected to learn to handle them responsibly when we turned 18 and magically became adults. A quick look at the music popular with Generation X can show you how successful that was.
So while I do try and curb my swearing around the kids, I also try and teach them that there isn’t anything magical about words. There’s no God looking over their shoulder counting up the number of times they say “shit” when they drop a plate. It’s more important that they be mindful of the way they can hurt people with words that are sexist, racist, classist or ablist than whether they offend the prurient interests of repressed adults.
My daughter is too young to talk coherently, although she is starting to mimic words and repeat what she hears, so I haven’t quite dealt with this issue yet.
However, I do have fond memories of being 3-years-old and singing made-up songs with my best friend about “poop” and “pee.” In fact, the word “poop” figured a lot into our imaginative play. Nowadays, when my daughter has a stinky diaper, I exclaim, “YOU POOPED!!” and she smiles. I do the same when she farts, except we say, “YOU TOOTED!” She’s right on the verge of thinking this is funny. (Toilet humor is still funny to me, as you can see.) Also, the fact is that “pooping” and “tooting” are both signs of a healthy digestive system, so why not celebrate these joyous events?
When I was growing up, the word “fart” was forbidden in my house, and we had to say “pass gas” instead. As a result, I could not even bring myself to say “fart” until I was in college–and even then, I had to work myself up to say it casually! I could say “fuck” easier than “fart”!
With regards to actual swear words (fuck, shit, asshole, etc.), I don’t really say these in casual conversation. Although sometimes I will exclaim “Shut the FRONT DOOR!” instead of “shut the fuck up!” because I think it sounds funnier. I say “oh my god” and I don’t care if my daughter does because I don’t see that as offensive. (Or at least, I don’t see “gosh” as a less offensive alternative.) We don’t say hurtful language in our house, as others have said. Swearing when you stub your toe is acceptable–but calling someone “stupid” or telling someone to “shut up” are not.
Right now, I’m not worried about getting phone calls about my kid swearing–I’m more worried about the phone calls I’ll get from other parents when she blurts out that Santa isn’t real.