Swearing these days is a lot less taboo than it was a couple of decades ago. Most adult TV shows and movies use explicit language freely, as do comedians and some social commentators.
Even popular music frequently features swearing, and while there are “radio edits”, if you kids stream music on a service like Spotify or Apple Music, they will come across the song the way the artist intended it, complete with expletives.
So, with all these swears being used in the public sphere, it isn’t surprising our children are exposed to it. And that’s not to mention any exposure they get in the community or at home.
As a self-confessed potty-mouth mother, my children aren’t strangers to “naughty words”. And, they are pretty good at understanding what is considered “bad” language. For example, if my 5 year old overhears me dropping the f-bomb, I’m suitably chastised.
However, as my boys have hit the preteens and are doing their fair share of boundary testing, they have slipped out a few swears themselves.
Am I surprised? Not really. I have always worked on the parenting philosophy that I’d rather my children say a bad word than be a bad person. And I honestly don’t think that the first is directly correlated to the latter.
It also isn’t surprising that my kids occasionally swear, given the results of study which found that a mother’s language has the highest correlational influence on a child’s tendency to swear. Equally unsurprising is the finding that peers also have significant influence. It’s estimated most children will have picked up 30-40 offensive words by the time they start school. I’m not sure I even know that many?!
So, is it bad for kids to swear?
Interestingly, research shows that swearing is not harmful or correlated with violence, as many would assume. It’s also been found that swearing can increase pain tolerance (we’ve all sworn over a stubbed toe or other injury) and be quite cathartic. In fact, some experts believe swearing can help teach children better social and communication skills, as well as anger management.
Out all the research, it seems the most important thing with swearing is teaching our children about context and social etiquette.
While I am not about to start encouraging my children to swear, rather than banning swearing altogether, I think I will approach the matter by teaching them the following:
1. There’s a time and a place
Kids need to learn that while they might swear amongst their friends, there are places that bad language isn’t deemed socially appropriate for kids and won’t be tolerated. For example, at school, around their grandparents, in public places etc.
2. Don’t swear at someone
I believe swearing at someone as an insult is highly offensive. I don’t want my children to think it’s ok to threaten, insult or abuse someone using any sort of language, swearing or otherwise.
3. Some swear words are considered more offensive than others
This has changed over time and there are words used commonly today that would have been deemed highly offensive in the past. However, even as a prolific swearer, there are still words that I won’t use or tolerate.
Overall, I don’t believe sheltering or stopping our children from using swear words is the answer and it’s interesting to see that the research supports my view.
Teaching kids how to effectively and appropriately express themselves is a far better strategy in the long run.
What do you think? Do you let your kids swear?