Kids and Profanity — What's the Consensus?

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Kids and profanity is taboo, but is it really all that bad?

My upbringing included a disdain for vulgar language, as it is was sign of a lazy mind. The creative person would be filled with a vast internal thesaurus of alternatives to the language folly. My goody-two-shoes attitude did not gain me the favor of many, and I silently judged my potty-mouthed friends long into adulthood. Lately, the pride in my civil tongue has diminished. It has been replaced with the regret of censorship.

How many times have I filtered my words and lessened their honesty and impact?

My husband is a shining example of passion for profanity. He is not without manners, but he lets out a few humdingers on a regular basis. He may have gained his impressive lexicon through rural life and a manual labor job, but I think most of it came from the military. His field mouth when returning from guard drill would give me shell shock. It always took a couple days for his mouth to become civilian again.

Today, he would not condone his mouth around our children, and both of us have censored ourselves for their sake.

They still hear vulgar language. We cannot prevent it.

Short of keeping our children in a padded room in the basement, it is impossible to protect our kids from real life. Bad language is reality, and it has its place.

My oldest daughter caught on to this early.

She was in the front yard shortly after turning two, when I heard her say, “Shit!”

She may have learned it from me. I’ll admit it, but I was amazed at how accurately she used it and knew what it meant.

“Don’t say that,” I replied.

And she stunned me with her reply, which went something like, “Oh, only say oops, right mama?”

Not only did my daughter know what it meant, but she knew how to censor herself, and she was two.

Dumbfounded, I had to meditate. Not literally meditate but seriously consider how to approach this newfound discovery. My daughter is a perfectly capable young woman who, at two years of age, was able to take responsibility for her language.

As anticlimactic as it is, I realized that I could not protect my daughter from the harsh words surrounding her. Kids walking down the street spoke more foully than any sailor ever imagined, and my daughter’s ears were already desensitized despite my preventive efforts.

Some of our friends were the worst.

They didn’t mean to be, but they had always been able to speak freely around us, and adapting to children didn’t come naturally, nor was it their job.

What we decided is that it’s okay for our daughters to hear “naughty words,” but they also must understand that they cannot use them until they are adults (we know they will). We will also try to censor ourselves to set a good example, but sometimes we will cuss when we hurt ourselves or when someone hurts us, and we aren’t going to apologize or explain it away. Our daughters need to accept that it happens, but it is not polite or appropriate for many situations.

Prior to writing this, I read a bit about current thoughts on cussing in front of kids.

There are benefits:
  • Expression: learning how to fully express emotion without censorship
  • Exposure: desensitization and normalization to what will be, regardless of supervision
  • Self-regulation: opportunity to learn to censor oneself when necessary
  • Trust: children appreciate being told the truth with all the ugly details
There are cursing no-no’s:
  • Slurs: not acceptable and not to be promoted
  • Acceptance: you don’t want your child running around dropping f-bombs
  • Violence: abusive language should never be tolerated
  • Reputation: vulgar words can create a negative image

Like many things surrounding parenting, I am undecided on the perfect approach to this topic. I have girls, and I want them to be ladies. However, today’s world is focused on gender neutrality and fairness. I cannot impose my ladylike fantasies on my modern day children and expect them to succeed. It’s not really a gender issue though, as I wouldn’t want my sons to run around shouting obscenities either.

For now, it’s enough to try to set a good example and not make a big deal out of the occasional slip up. Children will adapt to their surroundings, and as long as they know which words are off-limits around us, they’ll know how to adjust accordingly to life outside of our home.

I will continue to refrain from telling my daughter to shut the F--- up after she repeats herself for the fourth time. I will not tell her to go the F--- to sleep when I hear her singing an hour after she’s been put to bed. I won’t mutter, “Sh—,” or “God dammit,” when she wakes the baby. But I may say it if I stub my toe on her small, sharp toy I told her to put away three times already but has only been moved to a new location now underneath my feet.

Hubby and I will continue to censor ourselves, but we may reduce censorship during times when our children need to be communicated with like adults. If they refuse to self-regulate when necessary, then they’ll get to know the corner a bit better. It’s a gentler approach than how I learned with the fresh Ivory taste of a bar of soap.

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