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Parents Talk: R-Rated Childhood

Handling expletives in front of your children.

George Washington said of swearing, “Every person of sense and character detests and despises it.”

Some would say he didn’t know @#&%.

Profanity is so prevalent in our culture that I often find myself trying to shield my kids from it.

Okay, a four-letter word has been known to fly out of my mouth on occasion. The time I dropped my cell phone in the lake, for instance. And childbirth.

I do try to censor myself around the kids by using benign phrases like “Rats” and “For crying out loud.” But I can’t censor them from the world.

My kids are going to hear profanity. So when they do, I say, “We don’t talk like that because those are ugly words. You look ugly when using them.”

In our house, we prohibit more than just the garden-variety bad words. My son was punished for telling his sister that tea parties “suck.” They aren’t allowed to call each other “stupid.” They know I have a bar of soap and I’m not afraid to use it!

We have these ground rules because my kids are drawn to bad words like forbidden fruit. My boys like to do tongue twisters in the car, and their favorite is this one: “I slit the sheet, the sheet I slit, and on the slitted sheet I sit.” Try saying that 10 times without blushing.

Sure, there are times profanity serves a purpose. It can make a statement more emotionally charged. Imagine Rhett Butler saying, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a hoot.”

Doesn’t quite do it.

Swearing can punctuate a statement and give the speaker a sense of bravado. Die Hard wouldn’t be nearly as memorable if Bruce Willis had slayed the enemy with: “Yippee ki yay, jerk.”

And it’s a fact that cursing makes pain more bearable. (See childbirth above.)

In most instances, though, swearing adds nothing meaningful and just dilutes the message.

To demonstrate, let’s alter some famous quotations:

“One small step for man, one frickin’ leap for mankind.”

“Give me liberty or give me death, damn it.”

Does profanity make them more profound? I think not.

If only life had a seven-second delay, like on television, then I could censor myself and others. Not that my kids would give a bleeeep.

Here’s what local parents say about swearing:

Lori Wehmann, mother of six, ages 5 to 13: “We don’t allow it in our house. Not even ‘shut up.’ I recently took my boys to the movie Zookeeper and we were surprised how often they said ‘hell.’”

Mary Baran, mother of two, ages 9 and 11: “I tell my kids, ‘Those words are boring. You have a choice in how to express yourself: you can be creative or you can be boring.’”

Catherine Mehaffey, mother of two, ages 9-11: “If an adult uses bad language in front of my kids, I have a conversation with the kids and let them know that those words are inappropriate. If it is kids that are using bad language, I will ask them not to talk like that.”

Kristin Abukhadra, mother of three, ages 2-8: “I’ll say ‘Watch your mouth, there are children here.’” We use it as a learning tool. When we hear bad language, I let the kids know we don’t speak that way because it is disrespectful of others and rude.”

Tina Freeman, mother of a daughter, age 6: “My daughter understands that sometimes people will act or speak in a way that isn’t used in our household.  We neither correct nor acknowledge the inappropriate language. My mother always said that people curse because they lack the wit to use other language in its place.” 

Paige Cardinal, mother of four, ages 6-10: “I found out that the word ‘retard’ is used a lot in school. I consider that more offensive than four-letter words, and I would say something if I heard it.”

How do you handle inappropriate language in front of your kids?

Elizabeth Royster July 28, 2011 at 07:31 PM
I like the creativity angle because most swear words are very coarse. I take the tack that acting in a coarse way is habit forming. I have school aged-children but I do swear occationally, like when I hurt myself, and my children love to 'bust' me for it. It seems to give them a perspective of power while running for the ice pack.
James Sanna July 28, 2011 at 08:20 PM
I'm not sure what my parents did, but I was actually afraid of swearing until summer camp during my middle school years. There, all the cool kids in my cabin swore a lot and I made myself swear to fit in!

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