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I let my kids curse. Yes, I (*@$&%) do!

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Words, meaning and context

You’ve cursed in front of your child. Not intentionally, but you called out a name in vain after hitting your thumb with a hammer, or when you were so angry nothing else fit. Congratulations! You taught your child to curse -- in context.

Don’t be surprised when your daughter lets loose. Seriously, don’t be surprised. Or horrified. Or react.

Though most of us wouldn’t curse excessively in front of kids, sometimes something gets by and kids learn -- whether we want them to or not. And while it’s never cute when an 8-year-old swears, when a
16-year-old does, it can have its place. Really. How you react -- or don’t react -- at any age can have an impact on how much cursing escalates or decreases in the future. Better to help your kids -- especially your teen -- understand usage and context rather than make cursing a bigger issue than it has to be.

Shock value

Part of what makes cursing attractive, especially for younger kids, is shock value. Drop a certain word and a reaction is… certain! If you respond in a shocked and horrified manner, you’ve just told your child that swearing is a sure way to press your buttons. Prepare for more. Remain calm, then plan (and follow through) for a later conversation about cursing, and you set the stage for real communication about language use, abuse and your family’s expectations.

Emotional whiplash

Remember that old Schoolhouse Rock song? “Interjection! For excitement! Or emotion! …” What is cursing but a very strong interjection?

With the whiplash-worthy swing in emotions teens often have, it’s no wonder they often want the strongest possible way to express even everyday emotions. Understand there are deeper feelings driving cursing.

Social context

Eavesdrop on a conversation between teens and you might hear the F-bomb so often it’s as if it’s an article, not an interjection. Within that social group, cursing is rote, and the shock value is gone. You may not be thrilled with this, but ask yourself whether intruding on those conversations is really necessary. If it’s not, let it go.

Ground rules

Even if you aren’t thrilled with your teen’s actual swearing, finding a way to accept it instead of fighting it may help you keep lines of communication open around other issues. In addition, you can set guidelines to help keep the cursing in check and somewhat appropriate:

1

Be situationally aware

Think of the social situation. No cursing in front of granny, younger siblings, in church or anywhere there’s someone prone to extreme reaction. Note: This eliminates swearing almost everywhere but within your earshot and your teen’s social groups.

2

Support alternatives

Encourage use of other strong non-curse words to express emotions -- but respect that silly replacements just sound weird. To both of you. “Cheese and crackers” does not have the same oomph.

3

Don't insult anyone with curses

Cursing that insults someone else is never OK. Cursing should only reflect your own feelings.

4

Validate the feelings

Validate the underlying feelings. Communicate that you respect there are some emotions and situations that seem to call for those very strong words, but focus on what is triggering the word use, not the words themselves.

More on kids and language

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Cracking the code: The secret language of babies
Babbling key to evaluating speech development in babies with hearing loss

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