My latest parenting article is out and published at AFineParent!
It’s called How to Stop Your Kids’ Swearing “Experiments” from Becoming Habits.
(Caution: This article contains salty words)
The shock I feel when I hear my sweet little child swear never quite goes away.
Who said that? I think, still jolted off balance. Where did he learn that kind of language anyway?
In our case it was the tram: a treacherous place where my children are receiving their first exposure to the Real World.
In our urban Swiss life-style, our ride to school comes complete with teenagers making their way to the English language high school. It makes me cringe every time I hear a high schooler drop some “colorful metaphors” (as the late, great Leonard Nimoy called them in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home). I always look at my children to see if they are listening.
And, of course, they always are.
Swearing. Curses. Profanities. Obscenities. Vulgarities. Expletives. Everyone uses them at some point. Some people have perfected the art of speaking complete sentences made entirely out of expletives. Comedians thrive on the titillation they create with salty language. For example, George Carlin’s most popular routine was his Seven Words You Can’t Say on TV.
Our society is fascinated with swearing. From explicit lyric labels to FCC regulations, it seems we spend a great deal of energy thinking about colorful language.
Is swearing ever okay though?
Studies have shown that when you drop an F-bomb or two after smacking your shin against the coffee table you actually experience less pain. Swear words are also highly effective for expressing strong feelings. “Jerk!” doesn’t quite have the same punch of emotion as “Asshole!”
However in both examples above, the relief or release felt is lesser for someone who uses expletives all the time than for someone who hardly ever does. And company you’re in determines whether the repercussions of swearing are worth the temporary relief. So it does pay to be judicious with your swearing.
People also swear as part of mastering a language.
Think about all the babbling your child did as a baby. Amongst all the cute cooing and babbling they began making meaningful connections between those sounds and objects around them. Suddenly mamamama became Mama!
Once they mastered the vocabulary they began to understand nuances like irony and sarcasm. Then came experimentation with alternative meanings to words. And in the final phase of developing linguistic mastery we hear swearing.
Understanding the nuances of swearing, when and where it is acceptable, is a crucial part of becoming indoctrinated into a culture and developing maturity. Because it’s taboo, kids swear with peers whom with they feel safe. Swearing with friends is a sign of acceptance and equal standing within the group.
So ok, hard as it is for me to admit as a parent, there is a time and place were swearing might be okay.
But I definitely don’t want my kids swearing experiments to turn into a habit.
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