5 min Read
Is It OK To Swear In Front Of Kids?
August 1, 2020
5 min Read
August 1, 2020
Remember that Will Ferrell video from a few years ago starring his precocious, pint-sized, salty language landlord coming to collect her coin? I laughed, snorted, and if memory serves, made a mental note to encourage my offspring to swear like wee sailors, because three-year-olds dropping F-bombs are stinkin’ adorable, right?
Fast forward to today, when colourful language is frowned upon in my home, and it’s obvious that I’ve done an about face. The reason for my obscenity epiphany? Ironically, cussing kids.
Looking back, at first I didn’t think much of my friend’s two-year-old employing perfectly timed and contextually correct uses of the s-word, nor my six-year-old neighbour repeatedly bellowing at his mother to f-off, nor the twin eight-year-olds at a local park calling each other a**holes because they refused to share the monkey bars. Over time, though, the more profanities I heard spilling forth from the mouths of babes and school-age kids, the more it began to irk me. And thus my current stance was born.
I understand many parents think four-letter words are dashes of spice in a child’s ever expanding vernacular. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “But you know they’re going to learn them at school, right?” or “Of all the things your sons could be doing, swearing is the least of your worries” or “How else will they express pain/frustration/outrage without a well-timed f***?”
Thing is, as parents we’re all responsible for helping shape our kids’ character. For me, part of that responsibility is modelling to my sons the importance of respect, and that the words they choose play a role. I want them to understand that speaking their minds without the help of expletives really is possible.
At three, five and eight years old, our no-swear approach fares well. Inevitably there will be bumps ahead, but for now I choose to bask in the glory of language innocence. While it lasts.
When I was growing up and my mother was really upset about something – perhaps she let the potatoes boil over on the stove – she’d utter a clipped “sugar!” When a favourite dish dropped to the floor and broke, the “sugar” would escalate to “s***,” the ‘s’ escaping from her lips like hissing steam. This happened maybe a dozen times in my childhood, but I remember the immense feeling of relief it brought me. My mother was human. And if she wasn’t totally perfect, maybe I didn’t have to be either.
I began swearing in front of my two daughters when I gave birth to them. It hurt and the swearing helped. (A 2009 U.K. study proves curse words can have a pain numbing effect: 73 percent of participants were able to keep their hands in a tub of ice water longer when they swore.)
When my girls were little, I muttered swear words infrequently and only under my breath, such as when my first-born threw a small metal car at the back of my head when I was driving. Actually, I’m pretty sure I let the expletives fly that time. ‘Fiddlesticks’ just wasn’t going to cut it. But mostly I held my tongue, at least for a decade. As my kids got older, I censored myself less. I swore in situations when a perfectly placed pejorative was completely called for from my potty mouth, such as slamming the window down hard on my finger or when Stephen Harper won another term. Making certain words forbidden gives them too much power. And if they aren’t being used to hurt someone, where’s the harm? If parents are going to play word police, wouldn’t it be better to ban the truly nasty ones, such “ugly” and “stupid”?
My kids held off on cussing in front of me until they were about 12 or 13. When I first heard one of them drop the F-bomb (after she realized she left some important homework at school) the last thing I wanted to do was threaten to wash her mouth out with soap. In fact, I felt that same secret thrill when my mother let a swear word slip. It signaled a lack of rigidity. My behaviour wasn’t always perfect and theirs didn’t have to be either. When it comes to swearing in front of my kids, that’s all I really give an eff about.
I’ll admit I don’t swear a lot, but when I do, (I feel) it’s completely warranted. Like the time my wallet was stolen and I lost all my credit cards, five family member’s health cards and all my identification. “You said the F-Word 14 times, Mom,” I heard from my kids. Warranted.
My kids are not allowed to swear just like they’re not allowed to drink alcohol, but I am. By “allowed to” I mean I don’t approve of it, unless they have warned me with “I need to say a swear word in this joke. Is that ok?” I also consider swear words only those words that are not allowed on prime-time network television. I do not consider “Shut up” to be a bad word, so my kids are allowed to say it.
Do I swear in front of my kids? Damn straight I do. Does it give them permission to swear? Hell no.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, April/May 2016.