Parenting Solutions: Swearing (page 2)
Swears; curses; uses profanity, "potty talk," bathroom jokes, or other inappropriate words
The Change to Parent For
Your child learns to understand which words and gestures are "off-limits" in your home based on your family's values, adopts your views, and learns to express intense feelings in an appropriate way.
Question: "Our 'well-mannered' daughter blurted the 'F-word' at dinner last night and sounded like a shock jock. We're petrified she'll do this in public. Should we be worried?"
Answer: It's not time to lose a good night sleep just yet, but do keep a closer eye on things. First, let your child know that she is not to use any such language in or out of the house, and let her know why it's offensive. Second, once you decide to squelch any particular bad word, be consistent and don't back down. Also, you didn't mention how old your child was, but do keep in mind that some kids throw out a term to gauge our reaction. Words can have power. So keep a straight face. And if your preschooler is the offending party, don't laugh. Letting your preschooler think for even a second that his cursing or potty talk is "cute" may encourage him even more.
We generally equate childhood with innocence, so it can come as quite a shock when a foul word escapes from the mouth of our sweet little darling. Experimenting with profanity, "dirty words," or "potty talk" these days is considered "almost a developmentally normal behavior."29 After all, a big way our kids learn is by imitating others, and there's a lot of profanity for kids to hear these days, in music, movies, public places (60 percent of adults admit they swear in public30), and of course television. A Florida State University study found that profanity during prime-time hours has increased 58 percent in four years—nearly nine out of ten of those programs contained profane words.31 Educators are so exasperated that some high schools now fine students if they utter profanity on school premises.33 And over 80 percent of Americans feel that vulgarity is getting worse.34
Regardless of the prevalence, it certainly doesn't mean you should allow profanity to become part of your children's everyday vocabulary—and most especially if those words are aimed in anger at a particular person. Swearing can become a hard-to-break habit that taints children's reputations, breaks down their character, and ruins family harmony. The best way to stop swearing is to nip it in the bud and to teach your child healthier ways to vent his frustrations. This entry provides some ways to parent for change.
Swearing Is on the Rise Among Teens
Harvard University: Research shows that the use of swearing and obscene gestures is increasing dramatically on school campuses.32 Fifty-nine percent of teachers in urban schools and 40 percent in rural areas said they daily face swearing and obscene gestures from students. A USA Today poll of high school principals found that 89 percent regularly deal with profane language and provocative insults toward teachers or other students. Chances are that your child is hearing profanity from peers, so be vigilant and keep parenting for the change you want.
Pay Attention to This!
Could It Be Tourette?
Tourette Syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary tics, movements, or vocalizations, is often called "Swearing Disease" (though less than 30 percent of people with Tourette have the swearing tic). In children the tics usually start between three and ten years of age. For information, contact the Tourette Syndrome Association (http://www.tsa-usa. org); read Children with Tourette Syndrome: A Parent's Guide, edited by Tracy Haerle; or talk to your doctor.
Signs and Symptoms
There are five signs that swearing may be becoming a problem that does require swift change:
- It has become a habit; bad words slip out any time and any place.
- Your child's character or reputation is at stake because of his foul mouth.
- Family harmony and relationships are being torn; respect is unraveling.
- Your child is aiming those words at someone or some group in anger.
- The problem is combined with other difficulties.
The American Academy of Pediatrics explains that by itself, swearing is not a sign of an emotional disturbance, but when other chronic problems are present (such as lying, hostility, depression, stealing, or trouble with peers), then it may be a symptom of a psychological or social disturbance.35 Talk to a mental health professional.
There are three steps to curbing potty talk, bad words, and swearing. You usually won't have to get beyond the first step with younger children. But with tweens and sometimes with older school-age kids, you may have to work through all three steps to parent for the change you desire in your child:
Step 1. Early Intervention
- Identify the reason. The first step is to figure out the reason your child is swearing so that you can tailor the solutions to that reason. Here is a list of a few of the most common reasons kids swear, tell inappropriate "bathroom jokes," or curse. Check any issues that may apply to your child:
- Copying what is heard from kids, TV, movies, other adults, or you
- Seeking attention or trying for "shock" value
- Testing limits and boundaries
- Proving independence or trying to feel "grown up"
- Attempting to "be cool" and impress others
- Trying to gain peer acceptance or "fit in" with the other kids
- Venting or letting off steam
- Intentionally hurting a person
- Behaving like others in his social group; swearing is a part of the culture
- Using the term in ignorance; he doesn't know the term is inappropriate and has never been corrected for using it
- Curb your tongue. Be honest. Are you at all responsible for your child's new raunchy vocabulary? Could your child be replaying what he hears? Kids at all age are mimickers. So watch your mouth. And put a restraining order on any older sibling or adult in your home who is swearing. Those are not the first words you want younger kids to utter.
- Have value talks. Talk to your child about your family values and explain why you object to such language. "I know other people may use those words in their homes, but we don't in ours." "Those are words that can hurt people's feelings. I expect you always to want to say and do things that make people feel good." If these words are offensive to your cultural or religious beliefs, then say so: "We don't ever use God's name in vain."
- Find the source. If your child is saying more than an expletive or two, try to determine where the words are coming from. Is there anything you can to do to eliminate the source? For instance: curtail certain TV shows or CDs, tune in to the ratings on those movie rentals, watch your own cursing, curtail the playdate, talk to the older sibling.
- Establish your house as a "No Swear Zone." Set a rule that no swearing is allowed in your home. Just be clear with all family members about which words are considered off-limits and then follow through on your rule. (Mom and Dad—as well as their adult friends—must obey the home standards.)
What is your best guess as to why your child is swearing or using inappropriate words? What is the first thing you will do to change this problem and turn things around?
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