April 18, 2012

Kids and Swearing

Periodically I have to remind the children why they can't freely say non-swears such as stupid, dumb, hate, sucks, and crap---especially since I say all those words. There are a lot of ways to explain it; the explanation I use is that they first have to fully know what the words mean and fully understand the impact of using each word, so that they're able to judge the appropriateness of use and then accept the consequences of use.

It's not that the words are intrinsically bad/unusable, but rather that they're more complicated than regular words; context/audience/frequency is significantly more important. I know the difference between (1) saying privately/lightly to a friend that I think a certain school/work rule is stupid and (2) saying publicly in a meeting that I think someone's idea is stupid and (3) calling a clerk stupid. I know the difference between (1) "Oh, man, I'm sorry, I hate that you have to go through this!" and (2) "I hate this new parking lot!" and (3) "I hate you!" The kids don't really get all the nuances of those yet---but as they start to pick up the nuances, they get more freedom of usage.

One thing the kids have found appealing about this explanation is that it includes the idea that soon they WILL be able to use the words---and also that the timing is not arbitrary but based on their own judgment/maturity levels. That's what I find appealing, too: I don't have to sit around debating intrinsic word value or whether they MEANT the word that way: if they act like they don't understand what the problem is, they're not ready to use that word yet.

So they're allowed to try a word out now and then, and if it's outside of acceptable limits (calling a sibling stupid, for example), I'll remind them not to use that word. If they've used it within acceptable limits (saying that they think piece of homework or a rule at school or the way something works is stupid---bonus points if it actually is kind of stupid) I'll give them a little squinty, small-closed-mouth-smile look that means "I'm allowing you to use the word this time and in this setting, but I'm paying attention to how you're using it." It's a look that acknowledges/rewards correct usage, while reminding them that they're still in the probation period.

(Darned if I can find it, but Indigo Girl posted awhile back about one of her kids using a mild bad word, but using it correctly and, when glanced at squintily, following it with something like "I know, not in front of the grandparents." Yeah baby. That's the goal.) [Here's the post---thanks, I.G.!]

I've been allowing 7th-grade Rob more word-use freedom recently, as long as he uses the words correctly and not in certain company (school, for example, if adults are around), and as long as he doesn't use them too FREQUENTLY. That last one is big for me: if he occasionally says something "sucks," I'm fine with that; if he's saying "sucks" a dozen times a day and "crap" another dozen times a day, I'm not fine with that. Good-naturedness is also important: yelling "That's CRAP!" would be totally different than smilingly saying "...Crap!" when I notice/mention it's past his bedtime.

But several times recently his siblings have reported that he's been swearing repeatedly under his breath (but loud enough for them to hear). One incident was when he was trying to get his MP3 player to work. Another was when he was trying to find something he'd lost. Not iffy words but Big Swears---and not lightheartedly.

I THINK my goal is only to correct the "audience" and "overuse" aspects of this, not to correct the actual words themselves. Seventh grade is too young for him to use Big Swears in front of me (or in front of younger children), but may be acceptable for when he's alone or with peers (and there is also the issue of whether I could stop him in either of those latter two situations). As someone who by nature is STILL disinclined to use "the s-word," it's hard for me to know what's normal.

Do you remember what the rules were in your household growing up? Do you remember when you and/or your peers started swearing? When I was in 7th grade, I was still at a private school where you could get a stern lecture for using the word "weird." (It connects to WITCHCRAFT.)

50 comments:

Gina said...

I don't think I started swearing in front of my parents until I was in college - and then only in the context of humor. It wasn't that they were anti-swearing or anything - they both swore, but I just somehow never did it.

As for my kids, my son is now in high school and I don't get too uptight if he slips and says one of the milder words (like me - usually in the context of humor), but I do give him the squint.

Although one time a couple years ago, he let the big one rip when he thought I wasn't in the room. When he turned around and saw me, his face was priceless - I wish I had a camera at that moment.

Josefina said...

Growing up, just the traditional swear words were outlawed. Crap, stupid, etc. were fine. I don't agree with those rules, and I conduct things in my own home the way you do in yours.

I remember using swear words under my breath as early as elementary school. However, I do my best never to use those words at this point in my life. Sometimes I slip.

Saly said...

This is very intriguing to me! My kids are still at the stage where they think any of the big swears are very very funny. We allow crap and stupid, but in the same sense as you do--it's not acceptable for Bud to call Lucy stupid, obviously.

Hub and I have never much censored our language around the kids, and none of them have really ever gone off on a cursing tear.

I was probably in high school when I began to curse around my parents, but more of "what the hell's and damnit's" than anything else. Even today, I would never dream of using the f-word around either of my parents, though nothing else is off the table.

kate said...

It's terrible, but I had a horrible mouth as a kid, starting in the fifth grade. I didn't swear around my parents until I was out of high school, and they would have told you that I didn't swear at all as a kid, but I sounded like a truck driver around my peers. I wasn't alone, though. I went to an all-girls Catholic school and PLENTY of my friends used swear words all the time.

I didn't do anything about my potty-mouth until I had kids, and even now they slip out sometimes, although I try hard not to let them.

Laura said...

I've been considering this very issue lately. In fact, I'm going to print this out and have my 13 year old read it because you explain it so much better than I can and have in the past.

The problem we are having is not with the actually "saying" out loud of the word/s, but the use in texting or messaging. I was floored when I saw swearing in this context because it seems so much worse/more permanent. He assures me he doesn't actually use these words in conversation with friends, only when they are texting. I think I may have died at that point. I am NEVER prepared for these spontaneous conversations.

Anyway, I think I started using some inappropriate words in fifth grade, but I never, ever heard my mother swear until I was an adult. We actually had a conversation about it. Turns out, it was a conscience decision on her part NOT to swear when we were living at home. Even now, it's funny to hear her use a "bad" word because it's not always used correctly and it comes out kind of wrong. I guess that is from years of no practice.
(ps -- I wish you would start a sub-blog for us moms with big kid dilemmas. You're such a good thinker about these things.)

Saly said...

Although, my cousin and I began swearing around each other in probably second or 3rd grade, repeating things our parents said.

I still remember wondering why we were calling people asswifes.

Clarabella said...

When, I was in fifth grade, I tried out the word "SHIT" at my own birthday party for a group of friends. My parents just happened to overhear. After the party, my mother washed my mouth out at the kitchen sink.
I'm pretty sure I didn't cuss in front of an adult again until I was at least 20 years old.
I have a foul mouth, as does my partner, so we've had to keep a handle on it with our son, obviously. I take issue with the words "hate, sucks, crap, etc." as well, and, since I only have the one child, and he's 5, I just tell him he can't use them. End of story. He still slips up, but he knows it's wrong. The funniest thing he does is when he uses the word "hate." He TOTALLY knows what it means. For example, the other day, leaving a public restroom: "Momma, I hate those air dryers." Tight-lipped look from me, but before I could scold him: "I know 'we don't use the word hate,' but, you know, I just really hate them." SO. I suppose if he understands usage, I'm okay with it too.
The BIG WORDS? Well, I can guarantee you I'll never wash his mouth out with soap, because I think it's cruel, and it scarred me for life. But, I'll cross that bridge as we come to it.

Suzanne said...

My house had very strict language rules. I was not allowed to use anything even kind of like a bad work - sucks, crap, shut up, darn - or anything that could be taken as blasphemy. Even "oh my gosh" was forbidden.

I was in high school before I started swearing silently to myself and college before I swore out loud. I was at least 21 or 22 before I ever said "crap" in front of my mother, although now SHE says the minor bad words so I don't feel quite so awkward. I will never ever ever use a Big Swear in front of my parents. Ever. Although I swear like a sailor (also, I'm married to a sailor) when I'm at home. I was in a situation recently where a new brother-in-law kept forgetting my parents-in-law were around and it was SO UNCOMFORTABLE when he swore.

Right now we are still at the point where the 3 year old saying "Crap!" is rare and hilarious, but I would very much like to set the same goal as you and Indigo Girl. Not in front of the grandparents!

-R- said...

By 7th grade, other kids in my class were using "big" swears. I was never allowed to swear at home, and my mom didn't like "sucks" or "freaking" either (as in "That's freaking stupid.")

My parents never swore in front of me.

My kids are not going to be allowed to swear or say "crap" in our house. Though my 3-year-old did ask me the other day if "fucking idiot" was ok to say because he heard my husband say it in the car. Good times.

Lawyerish said...

I don't remember there being articulated rules about language in my house growing up, but of course it was understood that certain words were just Not Used.

When I was in junior high, I know I would use curse words when I was with friends or in letters (how quaint!), and in high school I had kind of a potty mouth outside of earshot of family. After being away from home one summer as a teen, I came back and let some bombs fly in front of my parents (sort of accidentally, because I'd gotten into the habit) and my mom just said something light about it, like, "I see you've picked up some choice words this summer!" It wasn't until after college that I felt like I could use any and all language in front of my parents.

And NOW I find MYSELF being the one who has to give them a Look from time to time because AHEM, not in front of the two-year old! Full circle.

cindy kay said...

In my family growing up, real swearing was completely unacceptable and unused. The worst words I heard were "fiddlesticks!" and "doggone it" and "dadblast it." Now, at fifty years old, I have graduated to "darn" and "crap," but my children have moved on to "sucks," "freakin," and the occasional "damn." What is the world coming to?

Pickles and Dimes said...

Oh, man. My mom would freak out if I even said "sucks" or "frick" or "freaking," so I'm pretty sure I never said anything worse than that. (I remember muttering "frick" under my retainer-crammed breath while at the mall when I was 14, and having my mom whirl around to hiss menacingly, "WHAT DID YOU SAY?", scaring me half to death.)

Today I use the worst swear words known to man (usually while driving alone in my car). I'm careful about not swearing around kids though, because if I had kids, I would not want anyone swearing in their presence.

lillowen said...

I don't have much to add to this (my daughter is only almost-one) but I am very interested in the discussion. I've had multiple conversations with my husband after we've visited friends with slightly older kids about using words like "stupid" or "sucks" because even though they seem innocuous to us at this point, I know there are a lot of parents out there who prefer their kids not use those words and I try to be aware of and compliant with other people's wishes for their kids in that regard. It's hard, though, to retrain your own brain in that regard.

I'm also interested in your example re: the word "stupid" because I feel like there are a lot of adults out there that haven't yet managed to figure out an appropriate time/place for words like that. I die a little inside every time I hear a grown person berate a store clerk or similar using words like "stupid". I like the idea of teaching kids frequency/audience/context etc., because it makes me hopeful we're raising a generation of future adults who won't be unnecessarily/inappropriately cruel with language.

Slim said...

I still don't swear in front of my parents, or say "crap" or "sucks" or any of those.

Actually, I once swore when I was at least 18, and my father overheard and later spoke to me about it, because he was under the impression that I was doing it to impress a friend who was over. No, Dad, your daughter has a potty mouth.

My six-year-old was trying out some practice swears a while back, and he was terrible at it. Like Spock. My parenting success in that situation was not laughing when asked "What is your crap problem?"

(No form of "What is your problem?" is ever acceptable. "Crap" is not OK when you're 6."

Amanda said...

Damn my post was eaten...

You wrote exactly what is acceptable in our house and how we handle things exactly. Our kids have never been allowed to use hurtful words, hate, stupid, shut-up, idiot, and none of the big words.

The kids are 9 and 11 now and there have been occasional appropriate usage outbursts and I have just used the "I'm watching you" squinty eye. I am frequently told that I have very well mannered, well spoken kids and am proud of that. Several friends say that they don't mind if their kids use particular language since they themselves do as well. I heartily disagree. It grates my nerves hearing one child call another an idiot or stupid or yelling shut-up.

Growing up, I won't say our house was verbally abusive exactly...but my father let anything fly and his words were hurtful. I will never make my children hurt with my words and I don't want them to feel that way either.

LoriD said...

We discourage the use of little swears like stupid, idiot, shut-up, etc. because they're almost always used in a mean or hurtful way.

My kids are quite intrigued by the bigger swears and they're allowed to try them out occasionally at home. They know they will be in trouble if they use it around other adults, at school or at Grandma's. I kind of view it like a candy dish: when you first put out a candy dish, the kids will go crazy and eat all the candy quickly. After awhile, they'll realize there's no shortage of candy and will walk by the dish often without taking a handful. Likewise, if they have a place where swearing is not taboo, they may be less likely to rebel by using it for shock value.

Karen L said...

I read this blog for many reasons, but I really love posts like this. My oldest is about Henry's age so it's nice to hear a smart, thoughtful person think "out loud" about parenting stuff.

good-naturedness. audience and over-use.

genius.

One question, though, do you interrogate them on stuff like "sucks" which are innuendo or homophobic or whatever so that you know they know the impact?

Jessica said...

I'm still shocked when my mom says the occasional "that sucks," because sucks was her big deal most disliked word (though we kids weren't aware of fuck at the time, so maybe that would have won if it had been an option). It wasn't solely a I-don't-want-my-kids-to-say-this thing, either, she visibly winced whenever hearing the word, whether on TV, overheard in public, or whatever. I certainly didn't say it in front of her until I was well out of college and SHE started using it infrequently. I think for a while *I* winced every time she said it, even though I used it myself!

HereWeGoAJen said...

I am still not allowed to swear in front of my parents. I remember a dinner time debate when I called someone a "suck up" and was informed that I needed to find another word. Mind you, I was at least sixteen at the time. (My mom, doing the admonishing, suggested "brown-noser", my dad and I declared that was worse than suck up, being much more descriptive.) We couldn't say sucks. I barely use it now. And I don't swear at all. Very few cases call for it.

Shalini said...

No words for bodily functions were ever considered swear words in our house, but I've never heard my parents say the f word, and i don't think I've ever sworn in front of them once in my 33 years. I don't remember there being rules, just KNOWING, somehow, to not say that stuff, probably through osmosis.

Carmen said...

I can remember by dad hollering at me in 8th grade (I think) about using the word "freaking" in front of him. I think I'd said something like "I need to turn off the freaking vacuum cleaner". According to him, it wasn't the word that I'd used, it was the fact that he felt I'd clearly wanted to use a different word (that also starts with 'f') and had managed to substitute 'freaking' at the last second. I can remember my sullen reaction to getting in trouble for NOT actually swearing.

Linda said...

I did! It was in this entry (http://indigogirl.typepad.com/linda/2012/02/valentines-dance.html) and I said:

Andrew reports L (age 7) used "pissed off" correctly and then said,"I know. It's not polite and you don't say it to grandma or great-grandma." How perfect is THAT? I said a long time ago that I didn't plan to make language a battle as long as it was used appropriately. I'm proud of her.

Farrell said...

fascinating. At this point, with my daughter being only 7 1/2, she is very much a rule-follower and very aware of what's ok to say and what is not. In fact, if she's telling me a story about something a friend said at school she'll say, "I'm going to say a bad word, but *I* didn't say it, so-and-so did, I just want you to know that." The 'bad' word in the 1st grade is usually something like 'stupid.'

Growing up, my mom would swear when she dropped something or locked her keys in her car - reasonable swearing, i would say. My step-dad though has only sworn one time in his whole life and that was when we were at the top of "free fall" at 6 flags and he said "Holy shit!" (He's scared of heights, but went on the ride for me).

So since my step-dad was MAJORILY anti-swearing, I could never, ever say anything around him. My mom was a little more lax and starting at age 12, I did use the occasional 'crap' when say, i banged my toe into the door: reasonable and appropriate. I was NEVER allowed to say "stupid" or "shut up" or "sucks" or "retarded" as in "That's retarded." Those are good rules I think.

In 6th grade though I started cussing like a sailor among friends because I thought it made me bad-ass and cool (it didn't). Today I cuss like a sailor but not around my daughter. She HAS heard me say the things my mom said growing up though: If I break something, spill something, etc., I might mutter, "Damn it!" or "shit!" or "Oh crap I forgot my cell phone." Again, from my POV: reasonable and appropriate for the situation, even if not completely necessary.

Sarah said...

I like how you've handled this, Swistle. My oldest is 4 so we're not quite there yet, but it really got me thinking about how I'll explain it to him (and the others) and I like how you have.

I vividly remember battling with my mom over "sucks" and "freaking". I suppose those words were not the words that a perfect Catholic school-girl used (eye roll). My dad never made any attempt to not swear in front of us, but I was adult before I used those words in front of him.

I don't really remember when I started using the "traditional" swear words. Probably jr. high. I'm SURE I did, I just don't remember.

But after college, I worked in the restaurant business and you're not even taken seriously unless you're dropping F-Bombs every other word. Even in the upscale restaurant where I worked and it's been a habit that I really haven't broken. I make every effort not to swear in front of my kids, but they have certainly heard a few.

Heather@CritterChronicles said...

The words on your "non-swear but still inappropriate" list are the same ones on ours. I don't think I've ever sworn in front of my parents, and I still hesitate to say 'hell' or 'crap' in front of them but then I am not the swearing type; the moment our daughter was born I banished all words from my vocabulary that I didn't want to hear coming out of her mouth. It's now reflexive for me to say, "Oh poop!" instead of the typical alternative. My husband - who's in the Army and swears freely in his work environment - has always been very careful not to bring his work mouth home with him.

When my daughter was very little my ILs would very freely call things stupid around her until I asked them to stop. My MIL countered with, "But I work in a high school; I can't walk around calling things 'silly'!" and I said, "So that means you can't avoid using that particular word around your granddaughter, whom you see for one week out of each year?" My BIL uses his normal vocabulary around my kids and his own, and I often find myself saying to them, "Don't repeat what your uncle just said." But then again, we see them one week each year so I've stopped making an issue of it in front of the ILs.

We've reached the point where I let my kids watch PG movies that sometimes have these objectionable words in them, and we're just careful to point them out and say, "You might hear those words but we don't say them in our family". This is what my parents did, and it seemed to work for both me and my sister.

Like a PP I discovered the real swear words in 6th grade and used them prolifically with my friends, but NEVER at home or in school. I've told my 8-y-o daughter that she'll likely start hearing words that we don't use in our family and that she's free to say them to herself but not aloud, and absolutely never at school or in front of adults. I'm hoping this will head off her desire to someday try to shock us by using them in inappropriate settings.

Swistle said...

Saly- "Asswifes"??? Ha ha ha ha ha! I love it!

Christina said...

We always used "shut up" and "stupid" and other such words- my parents didn't really care- around the house. The unspoken understanding was that it wouldn't be around where it'd make us look bad or embarrass us or our parents.
I'd say about 10-13ish we started peppering in "crap" and "hell" or "suck" and "dick." haha We loved calling either other "dickheads."
By the time we hit high school we had a full profane vocab, but just on an "as-needed" basis, in the correct form.
I remember a family friend asking about our language once and my mom said "you have to choose your battles." She knew we usually just used it privately amongst siblings or friends, not in school, and not in front of important people. I guess she has a point- we never were the type to go to the principals office or be in trouble.. so really at the end of the day was it such a bad thing that we had somewhat potty mouths?

Swistle said...

Karen L- I've found most swear words really hard to explain, which is one reason we have the policy. Like, Edward (1st grade) asked what the f-word meant. Hm. I can tell him some of the meanings, but it doesn't really explain the word or its correct usage or its impact.

I can't think of any homophobic ones they've tried to use (or that I'd let them use), but if it came up I would certainly lecture them until they were sorry they brought it up. I HAVE had to explain such things with "idiot jokes" and the use of the word "retarded." I think of those (and of various racist words) as being in a different category than swears and iffy words.

heidi davis said...

Swistle, I love how you've handled this topic at home. However, it's too late to help me at all. My boys are now 11, 13, 15 & 17.

I have slowly moved to the swears are only allowed in the appropriate place category. Such as, not around adults. When I hear it (very rarely, although the 13 & 17 y/o's have been pushing it lately) I usually remind them it isn't appropriate since I AM AN ADULT. Very occasionally, I let it go. Right context, I'm the only other person around, really shitty situation, etc. And this is where I admit I'm not talking about the minor swears but F*bombs and such.

Oh, and starting in about 5th grade I had a mouth like a trucker. Stopped when I had kids. Am picking it back up as they age although usually not in front of them.

My reasoning in general is it isn't fair to not let kids express themselves when the situation calls for it. Dropping something on your foot deserves a little shout. I know kids that aren't allowed to shout anything at all because of the intent behind the words.

Wish I could have brought my boys up with the same rules you've enacted here. Never even thought of it though. Great! I've decided it's all your fault I've raised potty-mouths.

DomestiKook said...

I don't think I had rules. I just kind of *knew* that swearing around my parents was a very bad idea. And my dad was a swearer. Especially when he was frustrated. I didn't become much of a BIG WORD swearer until highschool. I'm in my 30's now and STILL won't swear in front of my mom! Important words need to be added to your list for NEVER usage. "Gay" when not used in direct relation, and "Retarded"'. Not acceptable, ever.

M.Amanda said...

"Asswifes" and "What is your crap problem" made me laugh.

My parents, well mostly my dad, had terrible potty mouths and there wasn't much discussion about what was acceptable/unacceptable language. We did know the big ones were not allowed. I think it was high school when I let the occasional word slip in certain situations. My parents raised an eyebrow, but didn't make a big deal about it. My friends made fun of me because it was much less than what they usually said.

I've found that I take my cues from the company I'm in. Until I get a feel, I talk like I'm in church. If I hear no swears, I continue with proper language. If I hear constant f-bombs, I'll let 'em rip. The only time I say anything about other people swearing is when kids are around.

With my 3yo, I try to stress the way words make others feel - "How would you feel if he said the game you want to play is stupid?" or "Don't you think it hurts her feelings to hear you say you hate her?" When she gets mature enough to understand context the way you explained and swear properly, I probably won't fuss about it. Except for the C word (not crap, the really bad one that references lady parts) as I am never okay with that word.

DawnA said...

The F word is actually a military term For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. Not that it would be any easier to explain that.

Maggie said...

My dad never swears. He's 77 and honestly, I don't think I've ever heard him say anything stronger than "damn." My mom didn't swear until she started working in an office when I was 8 and then she started some at home. We didn't have any openly discussed rules about swearing in my house growing up, but I didn't float words stronger than hell or sucks at home. Meanwhile at school, everyone started swearing like mad sometime in late elementary school or early Jr. High. I went to a Catholic HS and there was plenty of serious swearing there too. So, I had a bit of a potty mouth around my friends, but not my family or teachers etc. When I had kids, I basically cut out swearing at home - at the office is more on an "as needed" basis.

I've told my son (9) that I don't care if he swears at home (not around his 2 YO sister, and not directed at someone) but it's not ok to do it at school or in front of grandparents (although they swear around him more than I do). Perversely, my son doesn't swear (at home, I have no idea what he's doing when he's not within hearing distance of me).

However, no one in our family is allowed to say shut up, call any living being in the house stupid or an idiot, or say something is retarded. Basically hurtful use of hurtful words is not acceptable.

Sarah said...

I really liked what LoriD said, the analogy about the candy dish. I think that's so wise and can be applied to many "growing up" type situations. For instance, ok, how a teenage girl is allowed to dress. My parents were CONSTANTLY on guard for any hint of Teh Sexy in our attire, and so was our school, and I can tell you any time I got the chance the pants were skintight and the shirts were loooow. Why? Mostly just the thrill of the forbidden, I imagine. Clearly it hadn't occurred to me that, hey! These are my boobs and my ass and they'll be mine to show off here and there, when appropriate, my WHOLE LIFE. But since I was constantly being hounded to hide them, all I could think about was dressing SEXY!
Kind of off topic there, sorry, I just thought the analogy was great. As for the swearing, our rules, so far, are exactly like yours. We do a lot of that raised eyebrow "I'm paying attention!" look, because a four year old saying crap IS kind of funny, but not to his grandmother, so we've already discussed who does and does not like to hear those words.

Vegas710 (St) said...

LOVE these conversations!
We didn't swear in my house when I was a kid, I don't remember it being a huge deal though. My parents are super-right evangelicals but my mom started saying "shit" in front of us when we got to high school.
We use swear words around the kids quite a bit. Any time they've said one, we tell them that it's a grown-up word. So far, that has worked just fine. Sometimes I make up nonsense things to say in place of cursing but it's mostly for my own entertainment. :D
Hurtful words are not okay so we don't use them.

Elsha said...

Growing up our rules were pretty strict. We weren't even supposed to say "crap" or "sucks" as HIGH SCHOOLERS. Things got considerably more lax when my mom started teaching high school and realized that "crap" and "sucks" were WAY mild compared to what most high school kids say.

Alexicographer said...

I find your approach very sensible and comprehensible. I'm trying to figure out how best to apply it in my household, where 50% of the adults (we number 2, and it's not me -- just sayin'!) don't yet "fully know what the words mean and fully understand the impact of using each word, so that they're able to judge the appropriateness of use and then accept the consequences of use."

So far, I have managed to work out that the single best (most effective) thing I can do if my husband says something dumb or rude (which may or may not involve swear words) is ignore him completely. So if I can use that to get him to contemplate consequences and adjust behavior, maybe progress can be made.

Sam said...

I'm a swearer. My rule when Chicken was younger was: not in front of school/gparents/etc plus if you use a word too much I'll make you stop. My theory (which I shared with Chicken) was if you use a bad word (little bad or big swears) too much you are being lazy and not using your ample vocabulary-you look dumb. And then he uses the "C" word on my blog. *sigh* The only words I do not ever allow are ones that are offensive to certain groups of people.

G said...

I think our "rules" are like yours.

Growing up, my parents never swore. I can remember the rare occasion of my father softly saying "damn" when he'd burned his hand or dropped something heavy on his foot. (My brother and I were reminiscing about him singing "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" through gritted teeth while putting up Christmas lights every year and he confessed that he did that so as "not to swear in front of the children.")

In high school, I remember writing down curse words, but I could never SAY them without it sounding really weird and blushing furiously. The worst I say now is on the level of "crap." My husband drops the Big Ones when he's really ticked off about something.

I just had a conversation with the 4-year old about "hate" because he had just had some shots. He was saying that he knew he couldn't say "hate", but....so I filled in for him that it's OK to hate shots. :)

Laura Diniwilk said...

I had no rules for big or little swears, but even without them, it was late high school before I'd use the four letter ones in front of my parents. My best friend and I started privately "cussing" (ha) in 6th grade and I've sworn like a sailor ever since.

Honestly? I don't think I'm going to care much about it. I recognize that Adriana (2 1/2) is picking up some bad habits from Justin and I already, so we are trying to curb it in front of her. She knows which words are bad everywhere, and which words are only bad at daycare (they don't let her say dude or weird, in addition to the normal non-swears). We just had a conversation the other day about how she has different rules for different places, and she has to listen to the grownup in charge of whatever place she's at.

But when she's old enough to "get it"? I won't care if she drops f bombs in front of me, as long as she doesn't do it in front of her teacher. Basically no one is going to be allowed to come to our house.

Jenny said...

Our rules are about the same as yours. When my son was about 2.5 or three, he had a habit of yelling "MANNIT!" when frustrated, and I told him, as straight-faced as possible, that that wasn't a nice word and he should try to say "Shoot," instead. But at this age (currently four and seven) it's mostly about the hate and stupid and dumb. Using them appropriately is such a great lesson.

Tammie said...

As a mom who can and does swear like a longshoreman at times, I agree wholeheartedly with everything you've said here with one addition.
I think it's fine if 7th graders are trying out language amongst themselves, they'll do it whether or not it's sanctioned by you.
But it's still important for them to understand that when hanging around where there might be other small children, like the mall or a restaurant, beach, etc., swearing is still not appropriate. Some adults still don't seem to get this one either and it fucking pisses me off.

Jess said...

My older kids are 7 and 8, and are allowed to use 'crap' and 'sucks' and all the not-nice words (stupid, hate, etc). But with the same sorts of caveats you mentioned. We don't hate in direct reference to people in any way. We don't use stupid (or its partners) in reference to people, but can use them in reference to things that don't affect any one else.

Basically, if you think it's going to hurt someone's feelings, it's not an appropriate use.

I have two younger kids too, and the older two know that when they do use swear words, at some point, they need to be used appropriately. As in, not around other kids, as their parents might now be ok with it.

I think the difficulty of the whole thing is trying to teach our kids the concept of judgement, which isn't nearly concrete enough to make it an easy life lesson

Nicole said...

My kids are allowed to swear under certain circumstances:

1) While watching certain sporting events with their father and their team is losing

2) If they are at home and they hurt themselves.

They are never allowed to swear if there is anyone in the vicinity other than my husband and I.

I think kids swearing sounds trashy, so I don't like anything like that in public. They are allowed to say Shit, but not You're Stupid. I think You're Stupid is worse than swearing.

Adlib said...

I totally agree with Nicole - kids swearing does sound trashy. Heck, I wasn't even allowed to say "butt" at home when referring to someone's actual posterior. I started cussing a lot once I got out of college and away from my parents, who I'm sure have never said a cuss word in their lives. My dad freaked out once when he heard me use the word "friggin'". Anyway, I have recently tried to clean up my language just because I've come to think of it as not very ladylike. I also try hard not to swear at work, and it must work since people I work with make a huge deal over it when I do.

Anyway, great post! I have young nephews, and the stuff like this you post is fascinating. I don't have kids of my own, and if I do someday, this is good to have in the back of my mind.

Life of a Doctor's Wife said...

Swearing - and other words, including "shut up," "sucks," and non-medically correct terms for anatomy and bodily functions *shudder* - was strictly forbidden in my household. My father felt that intelligent people could ALWAYS find a more intelligent way to express themselves. I get what he means, but, come on. Sometimes swearing is the best expression of a feeling. That said, I don't remember swearing on the regular until high school.

d e v a n said...

My parents always swore a lot (still do) but I STILL, at age 30, feel weird about it if I say a swear word in front of them. Not because they care, but it just feels wrong. ha!

Maricris @ SittingAround said...

Growing up, my parents were both strict, and swearing was a big, big no at home. I remember one time, my mom heard me said something. I was asked to face the wall for an hour, and was not allowed to watched tv for the whole day!

Heather said...

We kinda had the opposite problem. Dad started swearing (he was a teacher and picked it up from being around naughty kids and peeved off teachers) and knew he needed to stop before we all got worse. So we got a swear jar with a 10c infringement fine. If words were used inappropriately you had to pay per word and it was all donated. I remember dad and my sister Jan having a big fight, she just rammed $10 into that jar and nutted off completely at him lol.

Ms. Key said...

My kids at school (I teach grade two) are so scared of the words "dumb" and "stupid", they call them "the D word" and "the S word". Sometimes they tattle on each other... "so-and-so said the S word!" and I ask them to whisper to me which word so I can judge the severity of the punishment for use, LOL. More often than not they lean in and whisper "stupid".

I'm not of the mindset that "dumb" or "stupid" are really "swears"... so I just encourage at school that there are "nicer words to choose", but I don't censor if a book says "dumb" in it (though some teachers do). I don't agree with raising totally sissy kids, hahaha.

I'm not a parent yet, I think I'd be like you. Encourage not too many of those negative-tone words... but not punish hugely for dumbs and stupids and such.... I'd have open conversation about word meanings and tones and all that. I remember my parents swearing in front of us, but never the F word, just sh*t, damn and hell... my mom would let me say "damnit!" when she was doing my buns for my ballet recitals as a child and I was hurting my head, LOL! It was the one time I was "allowed to swear", and I remember that being a fun little in-joke with my mom.

I tested out swears around grade seven myself, with my peers. However, I was such a goody-goody, I didn't use the F word until late high school... and I still don't use it too much, and sometimes even flinch when I hear it in certain contexts by my friends (and I'm nearly 27, LOL!). Damn, hell, b*tch and such were the first ones I experimented with in grades seven and eight.

I think being a teacher and watching my own language all day has taken swearing out of my rotation for the most part, unless I'm very frustrated. I'll just encourage positive words with my own kids one day, but I also don't want them to "fear" or idolize taboo words. It's a fine line, like everything else, eh?!