In my family, we use bad language sparingly. I don’t mean sparingly around children; I mean even left to ourselves and with an adult audience, we don’t use too many swear words. So my daughter has grown up in a fairly artificial atmosphere – some of it my doing.
For instance, I refused to use the words ‘stupid’ and ‘idiot’ as part of general language. I wanted her to know that the words meant something real – that they were not just words to trot out when you disagreed with someone or something.
She confronted me about it when she was 7. “You told me ‘stupid’ and ‘idiot’ are ‘bad’ words, but all my friends use those words. And they don’t even think those are bad words! They think I’m weird when I tell them that these are bad words to use.” (I’d told her when she was not even 3 years old!)
I told her, “This is how I feel. Others can feel differently. It doesn’t make them better or worse than us – just different. You feel free to use them if you want to. It doesn’t bother me. It’s just that I choose not to use them frivolously.”
Now for the real story:
I had picked up my 11-year old from school. We both enjoy the rare occasions when I do so. Nothing much happens, but she’s full of what happened at school and I’m happy to get her news “hot off the press”.
Today, she was silent. Something was wrong. When I asked her what had happened, she said, “It was a terrible day! I don’t know how to tell you what happened.”
My heart promptly sank. What could be that bad? Obviously, I started prodding her to tell me what had happened – I needed to be put out of my misery. I had to know! No response from her.
Finally she said, “I’m wondering how to tell you.”
I was concocting all kinds of dire scenarios. We were both in our own private hells.
Eventually, she started to speak. “Someone said something terrible to me!”
My heart began to resume something approaching its normal rhythm. Someone said something – things definitely could have been worse.
“What did they say?”
“This girl – she said – she said” and here, she threatened to dissolve into tears. “I don’t know if I can even say it!”
I’d had enough. “Just spit it out, will you?”
“She said ‘F- you!’”
You’ll probably be appalled at what I did next. I burst out laughing. I was laughing so hard I had to pull over. 🙂
A few minutes later, when I had wiped the tears of laughter streaming from my eyes, I managed to look at my daughter. She was aghast at my reaction.
“How do you know this word? Who told you it is a ‘bad’ word? Do you know what it means?” I asked.
“Well, I’ve heard some seniors use it in the bus and at school, and I don’t know what it means, but I know it is supposed to mean something bad,” she said. “How can you laugh? I’m so upset! Someone said something so bad to me, and you can’t stop laughing!”
I was still smiling as she said this! 🙂
But it was definitely time to make her feel better! “Yes, it is considered a ‘bad’ word, and it means something specific. I’ll explain later exactly what it means. Right now, what you need to understand is that this is a word that everyone uses all the time.”
She was disbelieving. “What! No way – I’ve never heard anyone use it.”
“Well, people try to avoid using it around children, but every single grown up uses this word. Think of any single human being you know – even people you admire – they use it too. But the most important thing you should know about using this word, or others like it, is that people don’t mean anything by it. It’s just a way of expressing their frustration or annoyance. Some people use such words four or five times in one sentence. It doesn’t mean anything. Like when people say, ‘Shit!’ they don’t really mean the exact meaning of that word.” 🙂 My laughter threatened to explode once more.
She wasn’t amused. “But why say something if you don’t mean it? That makes no sense!” She was upset, and simply didn’t get it.
I assured her that it was about as serious as the girl having said, “Shut up!”
“Then why is it supposed to be a bad word?” she persisted.
“Well, it’s not considered polite to use it – that’s all, really. But everyone uses it – in some situation or other, if not all the time. And some people use it all the time.”
She was still put out. “It makes NO sense.”
That got me thinking. It really doesn’t make sense.
If you choose to use f-words and other swear words, you should have absolutely no problem with your children using the words too!
Why this ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude? Maybe you want people to think your kids are well brought up. I’m sure your parents want people to think the very same thing – even though you’re an adult now!
Excuse me, if you’re trying to be an effective parent, you’ll have to admit the truth – to yourself, if not to anyone else. Children use the language they hear at home. That’s all there is to it. If you are so bothered by your child abusing, listen to yourself. Catch yourself when you are abusing, and bite your tongue.
For some of you, if you want to do something about it, you might feel like you need to pull your tongue out by its very roots! 🙂
You might want to tell your kids openly: “It’s okay for me to use these words because I’m an adult, but they don’t sound good coming from you because you are a child. When you’re grown up (mention a specific age), you can use these words too, but till then, don’t!” They might take it from you.
There’s nothing wrong with any word. I mean that – yes, me, with my antiquated definition of what constitutes a swear word.
But if you’re particular that your children learn how to use language appropriate to the situation and company they find themselves in, you might consider modeling the behavior you’d like from them.