While rebuilding our deck one summer, I felt a sudden, sharp pain in my foot after stepping onto a discarded board, “Son of a ———!” Looking up I saw both of my young daughters wide-eyed with surprise. Without hesitating I added, “You are only allowed to say that when you step on a rusty nail.” The nail in my foot hurt but not like letting my young girls hear me say that awful oath.
My very first swear came when I was so young I didn’t know what I was saying. A group of older kids told me to say, “@#$%&,” to my older brother so I did. My mother crammed a bar of soap in my mouth and swirled it around to make sure my teeth got plenty and I learned my lesson. The funny thing was that nobody ever told me what @#$%& meant or why I was punished for saying it! What I said back then and on the deck that summer were exactly the same.
Is swearing a kind of social language?
The experience didn’t teach me not to swear, but to be more careful not to get caught. As a teenager I probably used my share of swears but when I got older, swearing lost its appeal. After having children I made the choice not to swear but feel the world around me is flooded with swearing and cursing.
A dear friend of mine drives an 18-wheeler and every sentence she utters is peppered with expletives. I finally asked her to stop swearing because I did not want to pick it up. I gave her the excuse that I volunteered on our state’s helpline but in reality, I was just sick of hearing it and so were my kids.
An accomplished writer once said that she writes swearing into all her work because that’s the way people talk. I think that is just not true, if every author believes that, they are propagating a myth. I would compare it to smoking; when smoking was accepted and allowed, it flourished despite the health warnings. Once smoking was banned in restaurants, public buildings and the like, the number of people smoking dropped dramatically. Simply not accepting or giving in to swearing can lessen the amount bantered about, just like the tolerance of smoking.
Swears and Curses are not Pretty
We are judged by others on appearance every day; our speech is part of that appearance. Most of us take whatever we have and try to look as nice as possible. Picture this: A tall, raven-haired beauty, neatly dressed in smartly coordinated business attire perches on a park bench. This attractive woman pulls out food for the birds and whistles a cheerful ditty. Suddenly, a pigeon drops waste on her skirt, “You dirty rotten %&@%#&@!” How did your opinion of Miss Prim-and-Proper change? Foul language has a way of bringing appearances and presumed education levels down. It doesn’t matter if someone is educated; they just do not sound as intelligent uttering degrading, vulgar words.
Swearing and Children
Understanding that kids will be kids, you can assume your kids will be doing some swearing with their friends, just to appear cool and fit in. However, you can certainly set no-swearing limits in your home and within ear-shot.
With younger children, when children use foul words, explain what those words and phrases mean and why you don’t want them to use them:
• They are offensive
• They may be hurtful to others
• They make swearers seem less intelligent
• They are disrespectful
• They are not allowed in our home
As children get older, the norm is established. They may still use swears with their friends but it is understood by them, and probably their friends, that swearing in your home is just not done or accepted.
Consequences for Swearing
Ignoring swearing will not make it stop and in most instances it will only make it increase. (Any rule not enforced is not a rule.) Address it as soon as you hear it with a consequence to help them remember. Try to match consequences to the behavior you want to stop. Make sure the type and length of consequence are age appropriate. There are a few options* below:
• Loss of TV Privileges: With TV being filled with so many programs that employ swearing, the loss of TV time is appropriate.
• Pay the Curse Can: Losing allowance can be a painful reminder not to swear. Decide the amount and add it to the Curse Can.
• Extra Yucky Chores: Chores are normally rotated among family members. In this case, assign a ‘dirty’ chore for an established amount of time, a month perhaps. Dirty chores include: picking up the pet’s droppings, cleaning bathrooms, taking out the trash, etc.
*Parents model behavior and are expected to follow consequence as well.
Are there any acceptable Swears?
Since most swearing is done in anger, pain (as when I stepped on the nail), frustration, etc. you can come up with a list of acceptable swears that may be used when appropriate. Be careful allowing words that sound close to the very words you want to discourage. Here are a few choice words below:
• Frank ‘n Betty
• Gee whiz
Swears, including calling names, should also not put down another person’s:
• Looks or appearance
• Size or weight
• Race or ethnicity
• Religion or beliefs
• Culture or country of origin
• Education or intellect
• Family members
• Financial status
What about swearing in media?
Some people think the current television programming and music influences our children’s swearing and they might be right. What’s a parent to do? First, decide what is important to you as a parent, then limit TV and plan any viewing. Next, monitor what kids watch and put in place filters that can help. Last, you can become an advocate for decency in media. A few helpful resources are below:
Swearing comes down to a matter of respect. When children respect their parents and others, they in turn respect themselves. What works for your household? I’d love to hear from you!
Talk with a Volunteer or Find a Group in New Jersey:
1-800-843-5437 or 1-800-THE-KIDS
Parents Anonymous® of New Jersey, Inc.
Phone: (609) 585-7666
Fax: (609) 585-7686