Here’s why I think it's ok to swear in front of my kid
Parents aren't saints, so we're bound to drop a few F-bombs here and there - but you know what? That's perfectly ok.
Most of my friends and family know that I have a rather “colourful” vocabulary peppered with F-bombs and other expletives, and some of them are a little surprised that I make little effort to watch my salty language in front of my three year daughter.
I can’t help it, swearing is just second nature to me and I’m not really embarrassed by it nor apologetic about it – it’s just who I am and how I express myself.
Although I wouldn’t intentionally sit my child down and teach her different swear words while writing it all down with chalk on a blackboard, I don’t think I will be able to censor my choice of words around her.
Why I swear so much
The very first time I said a swear word out loud was in the First Grade (Primary One), as my teacher checked my spelling and pointed out a mistake, I muttered the “S word” under my breath and the Teaching Assistant heard me.
Shocked, she asked me to repeat what I had just said, but I kept on saying, “Sorry”, instead, so she gently told me to never say it again.
I think I picked it up from a TV show I had watched and gathered that you use that word when something goes wrong, but I didn’t know that it wasn’t socially acceptable to be saying it out loud, especially as a seven year old kid.
My parents weren’t really the sort to swear and thought that the phrase, “Shut up” was complete blasphemy which warranted some sort of punishment, so I probably picked up bad language from TV shows (which were clearly inappropriate for my age at the time, come to think about it now!) and other older kids in school.
Throughout the years, I have come to use swear words extensively in my conversations (with those I am familiar with and depending on the social setting) as a way of emphasising my points or just to express my feelings about something, be it negative or positive.
Psychologist, Timothy Jay from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts believes that swearing can provide both emotional release and relief from pain.
“People have a sense of catharsis, they feel better after using this kind of language. Most people look at swearing as a bad thing that you shouldn’t do, without asking what the positive aspects of it are”, he says.
Jay also explains that in many social settings, like among teenagers or rugby players, it would actually be strange not to use foul language!
When does swearing become a problem?
There is a socially accepted concept of which four lettered words are considered to be swears, but different people and different cultures have their own set of beliefs as to which phrases or words are taboo.
Back when I was in the Second Grade (Primary Two) we were taught not to call anyone bad names and it became a strict rule in school, because the Principal was concerned about the way the students interacted with one another and did not tolerate any name-calling or forms of bullying whatsoever.
I wasn’t exactly sure what she meant by calling someone a “bad name” and I doubt she was going to give us a few examples during the morning school assembly, so I was left a little puzzled and confused as to what these banned words were.
But when I was in the Fifth Grade (Primary Five), I vividly remember one of the most popular girls in school got annoyed at me because of my over-enthusiasm in Dance class, and with narrowed eyes, she venomously called me a “pest” and a “disease”.
Now, if you look at those words on their own, they may seem pretty harmless – but if directed at someone with the intent of hurting or degrading them, that to me becomes the real taboo.
People should not clutch their pearls when they hear F-bombs or scatological references, but instead they should really take offence when they hear seemingly harmless words being used as verbal weapons towards others.
The right and wrong way to use swear words
Certain recognised swear words might also not really be offensive depending on the situation and the context they are used.
If you ate something so delicious that you stay awake at night just thinking about how good it tasted and you refused to brush your teeth so that you can still retain the heavenly flavour in your mouth, you might tell your friends about how “effing delicious” it was – and that’s pretty acceptable by social standards so nobody would probably take any offence to it.
But if you are walking in the mall and a complete stranger accidentally steps on your foot, and you turn around to yell in their face that they are an “effing blind moron”, then that will most likely be considered an insult and may garner a few shocked stares from other passersby and possibly 15 seconds of fame (or infamy) on Stomp!
However, as unfiltered as my language may be at times, I do have a mute button for profanities which I flip on depending on who I’m with and the situation that I’m in, such as:
- Job interviews
- Business meetings
- Teaching assignments (whether my students are young children, teenagers or adults)
- When meeting clients
- Conducting interviews for my assignments
- Talking to anyone I have never met before or am not so close to
- My parents’ friends
So to me, dropping the F-bomb can still be ok at times depending on the time, place and who you’re saying it to.
Is it ok for children to swear?
Call me a hypocrite, but I am not comfortable with allowing kids to spew out vulgarities from their sweet mouths, whether or not they understand what exactly they are saying and what the swear word even means.
The first time my daughter said her first cuss was when she was barely a year old – I was carrying her and while getting into the car, stubbed my toe and the “F word” automatically came flying out.
I think the level of pain I was in caused me to say the curse word with such ferocity that it intrigued my little one enough for her to delightfully repeat it, much to the horror (and admittedly, slight amusement) of my husband and I.
Although I’m sure she’s picked up a few more profanities along the way since then, I’ve made it a point to gently but firmly tell her not to say such words (for now), and when she’s old enough, I will talk to her about the usage of strong language, such as:
- Social setting (where she is and who she’s with)
- The context of which she is using a particular word
- Using other code words instead to replace the swear words
- How some may find it offensive
I doubt I can shield her from the real world and prevent her from learning how to swear; and I also don’t really have any qualms about her using foul language when she’s old enough to understand what she’s saying and to know when is the appropriate time or place for it.
My freedom of expression
Expletives are and most likely will always be expected to be used when I talk to those I am comfortable with, whether or not my child is in the same room and within earshot.
Dr Victoria Whitington, a senior lecturer in Child Development at the University of South Australia, believes that when parents use swear words casually, it will not have a massive emotional impact on children, and the main concern is that your innocent little tot will probably pick up that bad word and then practice saying it in polite company!
So personally I am more concerned about raising my daughter to be a strong, honest, and caring individual, who is kind to animals and compassionate to those around her, as opposed to few cuss words she has been exposed to.
Once she’s older (perhaps in her teens), she can throw around a few swear words here and there without me even batting an eyelid – however I definitely will not put up with any bad words being used against someone to belittle or bully them.
After all, what’s a little swear word or two every now and then if she’s growing up to be a loving person who has the freedom to express herself and is allowed to be who she wants to be?
Do you swear in front your kids? Should children be taught not to say any cuss words at all? How would you react if your little one used profanities? Tell us in the comments section below!