I’ve been thinking about the concept of “swear words” lately. A friend of mine was complaining about her six year old son swearing a lot, which she attributed to family members who swear and curse constantly around him.
Around the same time, @Thepadawanmummy on Twitter shared a tweet about asking her husband to stop cursing so much and her concern that the baby’s first word would be a cuss word.
My Childhood and Swearing
Growing up, my mother was adamant that her children shouldn’t be exposed to swear words. I was in my late teens or early 20s before I ever heard my mother cuss, and even then, she lowered her voice, as if the word held some magic power that would make it carry further.
My dad largely respected her wishes, except for the times when he was working on something. My dad is a handy man in every sense of the word — mechanic, plumber, electrician, carpenter — so he was always working on something. And inevitably, every project would lead to at least one moment of frustration where he’d throw down his tools, and start shouting: “Aaargh! Fuck this goddamn piece of shit! Nothing ever fucking works right the first time! Damn it!”
Despite this, swear words, in my house, were a punishable offense. When I was 11, my parents wanted to take us all to an outlet store about an hour or so away. It was a long, boring drive, to a big, boring store that I didn’t like and I was already in a foul mood. As I walked off to get ready, I muttered under my breath, “I don’t want to go to that damn store.”
My dad overheard me. When I realized I’d gotten caught saying something forbidden, there was this quiet aura of dread that hung thick in the air before my dad asked, “What did you say?”
I mumbled something like “I said I didn’t want to go to that darn store.” Dad knew better, though. My dad gave me a stern talking-to, and pulled off his big leather belt. That one word earned me about five good lashes on my rear.
That moment has always stuck with me.
Swearing Around My Children
I don’t swear and curse a lot in general, maybe because of my parents’ stance on swear words. I remember Angela drawing attention to it the first time I said “fuck” around her.
At the same time, I don’t have my mother’s hushed awe of the words, and I occasionally use them in casual conversation. The girls have definitely overheard me say curse words in conversation with Angela. And like most people, I cuss a lot more when I’m angry or hurt or irritated.
Angela is a little more liberal with swears in front of the children. I don’t have a problem with that, for the most part. There have been a few instances where I’ve asked her to dial it down, but they’re rare.
At four and three, the girls already know the “grown-up words.” I’ve caught them experimenting with them a few times. A few weeks ago, Baby and Monster were playing on the floor, and Monster was babbling to herself — her language skills aren’t as developed as Baby’s yet, so she still does a bit of babyspeak, especially when she’s playing with toys.
At one point, Baby looked up at me from her toys, wide-eyed and said, “Did she say ‘bitch?'”
“No, I said. She’s just making noises.”
“I think she said ‘bitch.'”
“She didn’t. But you’ve said it twice.”
Baby looked shocked and covered her mouth with her hands. I laughed and told her it was okay, because she was just asking a question and didn’t mean the word in a harmful way.
At 14, Bubba is more mature, but he still has that childlike awe of using cuss words around adults. A few weeks ago, we were playing a card game. Some of the cards had cuss words. Reading them, he usually shortened them to “acceptable” forms — “a-hole” instead of “asshole,” “that B” instead of “that bitch.” Once, he slipped up and said a full word and caught himself with a surprised gasp.
How I Want My Children To Think About Swearing
Either way, I don’t want to completely isolate my children from certain words just “because.” I don’t think words like “shit” and “fuck” are inherently harmful, and I don’t believe using them makes you seem uncultured or less intelligent.
Instead, I want my children to think carefully about their intentions with their words — with all of their words.
Growing up, I attracted a lot of bullies. I was overweight, I had an intellectually disabled sister, and I lacked the self-esteem and confidence to stand up for myself as a child, so I was an easy target. I’m sure bullies used a lot of cuss words to insult me, but the cuss words aren’t the painful words and phrases I remember as an adult.
I want my children to recognize that everyday language can be harmful if not used carefully, and that so-called “swear words” aren’t magically worse.
I also don’t want my children to use curse words as a substitute for more articulate language. I want them to have a broad vocabulary and to know how to use it to say exactly what they mean. I want them to know that words have power — and that “grown-up words” aren’t always the most powerful words they can use.
Do You Swear Around Your Children?
What’s your take on the topic of swearing around children? Do you use swear words around your children? Do you avoid them like the plague? Tell us about it in the comments.