I was as horrified as any parent would be the first time I heard my 18-month-old daughter swear. She was, of course, repeating a colorful phrase I had just uttered.
And so it goes. I’ve made numerous effort to clean up my language, but none of them very successful. Maybe you think cursing is cute and maybe you think it’s an ugly habit. I don’t think about it much at all, but I do it plenty.
For a few years so did my kids. I’ve felt vaguely guilty about that, but Aaron Traister has sold me on the virtues of a raising a potty-mouthed child. Next time my kid shouts, “Damn!” after stubbing her toe at the playground, I’ll smile with pride instead of rushing to correct her.
I doubt it will make much difference though.
Like Aaron’s son, my kids know how to swear. They don’t use curse words to get attention from adults, nor do they pepper their speech with them senselessly like Tourette’s victims. When they’re frustrated, when they stub a toe or drop a plate, when they’ve lost a favorite toy, they will sometimes let loose an expletive.
Just like Mommy.
Around age 4, the age Aaron’s son is now, I started making more of an effort to correct them. I didn’t candy coat it: “Most people are really uncomfortable when they hear kids use those words,” I said. “Please don’t.”
Like Aaron’s boy, my girls right away started testing those limits. What words count? Which ones are bad? How bad are they? They also delight in correctly me when I swear. “We don’t say…”
And like Aaron’s child, they’ve informed me that we don’t say “hate”. Hate is a bad word, according to my preschoolers. Also on the “bad word” list: “lawyer”, “stupid” and “sneaky puffer”.
What I am trying to convey is that, once the kids had been introduced to the concept of cursing, they created their own blacklist of rude words. Whether I will it or no, they’re experimenting with the notion that language should be censored.
School changes everything. At home, one can be cavalier about the occasional well-placed curse. At school, if a teacher doesn’t correct you, a classmate will. Everyone knows what words are considered rude, and the language police are everywhere.
Conversely, swearing becomes cool. My kindergartner developed an unpleasant habit of dropping four-letter bombs in her conversations when she wanted to impress an older kid. While I’d never minded her “proper use” of these words for toe-stubbing incidents, I put a stop to the “swearing as proof of sophistication” trick as fast as I could.
I suspect that no matter what I do, my kids will continue to navigate the forbidden waters of curse words. They’ll shout phrases that would make a sailor blush when they stub their toes, but also when they want to impress an older friend. They’ll do it to get a rise out of teachers and to convey an artistic point. Just like most humans throughout history.
What about you? Would you let your kids swear? Do you think it matters?