Swearing – why can’t our kids do it?

November 6, 2011


Right. Let me start off by saying that I have some pretty weird takes on parenting sometimes. I’m sure that once I’ve had to be a parent for a little while longer than a scant eight months, my viewpoint will change drastically.

But right now, I have the luxury of not yet having had the joy of toddlerdom, or teendom. So I’m going to indulge for a bit in my rose-colored ideas, and I very much welcome your opinions on them (so long as you’re nice about it when you tell me I’m out of my mind).


I know there are some people for whom swearing is against their moral code. This post is not about them. I have nothing but respect and admiration for people who profess an ethic, and then live by it.

No, this is about people like me — people who swear, and then become parents.

And my question is, aside from the obvious reason that society has generally agreed that it’s socially unacceptable, why can’t our kids swear?

I’m also not talking about the pattern some of us get into where the f-bomb seems to be issuing from our yes-we-kiss-our-mothers-with-these-mouths every other word.

I’m talking about the cursing that we do before we can even think about it, when we’ve hit our funny bone, stubbed our toe, dropped hot coffee in our lap, forgotten to take the trash out AGAIN, or have otherwise become emotionally or physically overwhelmed.

Why do we swear? Because it makes us feel better. There’s some science to back this up. And we, as adults, with fully developed brains (at least, we hope), need this outlet sometimes.

But gosh, kids get overwhelmed too… And with brains that are less well-developed in every way, they get even *more* overwhelmed. I think I could argue that kids need swearing more than we adults ever do.

Am I going to teach G the f-word? Hrm, probably not.

But I’m torn about the general hypocrisy that exists about this subject.

As a swearing person (hi my name is Venus, and I’m a swearer) I wonder how I’m going to explain why it’s OK for adults to use these words, but kids can’t. The crux of it is that I firmly believe that there’s nothing wrong with swearing in general. Though I do think it can be overdone and I’m not in favor of using swearing to hurt people or otherwise make them uncomfortable.

So I can’t tell my kids that the words are “bad” words and not feel like a hypocrite.

For now, M and I have curtailed our normal swearing habit so one of G’s first words isn’t something that could get us arrested as bad parents.

But at some point, he will learn the words. And M and I will lapse, and we’ll swear occasionally ourselves – especially in those moments of sudden unexpected pain or shock.

The best I’ve come up with so far is to try to explain that curse words aren’t “polite” and that they make some people feel unhappy, and we don’t want to do things that make other people feel bad. This pretty much sums up how I control my own swearing behavior. If I’m around a friend for whom swearing is a problem, I won’t swear while I’m in their company, out of respect. It’s that simple for me. If I’m around people I don’t know, I generally don’t swear ’cause chances are there’s someone present who would be uncomfortable.

So, when G is a teenager and he’s home and stubs his toe and accidentally let’s the f-bird fly, am I going to bug him about it? Probably not.

I think I’d rather pick my battles and try to model and instill the respect for others that I think all people should have as part of a well-functioning society.

And maybe, when he’s old enough, we can even have conversations about artful cursing and the magic wonderfulness that the f-word can bring to an ordinary sentence.


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6 Comments on “Swearing – why can’t our kids do it?”

  1. becomingcliche Says:

    Swear words can be the crutch of the inarticulate. Teach your kids that smart people are more creative and make their own expletives. They might buy it.


    • Venus Says:

      You’re so right, swearing certainly can be a crutch for the inarticulate. That annoys me greatly — I much prefer artful swearers. πŸ˜‰ We thought about making up new words, but so far have failed to find any that really fit the bill. Also, the benefit of pain reduction one gets with swearing is, I’m sure, related in no small way to the illicitness of the words. But who knows… we may end up going that route anyway.


  2. Lance Says:

    Swearing is a bad habot. Like smoking, poor eating, or listening to Nickelback. I teach my girls to be the best they can. Also, to be respectful of themselves and their parents.

    I don’t curse because I sound like a creepy idiot when I do. My wife’s throws out swear words every once ina while and it sounds sexy and funny. She does not curse in front of the kids.

    Our 8 year pold is the bold, risky, shock people kid. She’s dropped ahandful of bad words (that she got from her other family) and ive punished her.


    • Venus Says:

      See, I can get behind you. You have a moral code, you stick with it and live it, and you teach your children to do the same. That’s awesome.


  3. Missy | Literal Mom Says:

    Hi I’m Missy and I’m a swearer too. I think it brings fullness to an already robust conversation. πŸ™‚ Mostly the reason kids can’t swear is that whole “get suspended from school” thing. I’m going to teach mine there’s a time and a place for everything. I started my swearing in Junior High – I’m sure they will too.


    • Venus Says:

      Hahaha, yes. I almost got suspended from middle school for repeating something my father said all the time (in the hearing of my PE coach): “Excuses are like assholes, everyone’s got one.” As it was, I was only relegated to the Yellow Bench outside the principal’s office for a couple of hours, and I think my parents may have received a bigger scolding than I did from the faculty. πŸ˜‰


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