Posted: Apr 24, 2014 11:00 AM
I have long suspected that swearing around my kids is not that big of a deal. I've always made clear that swearing is appropriate for adults (in certain contexts) but never appropriate for kids. And you know what? My kids don't use profanity.
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I don't generally get excited about the research of random psychologists, but I kind of love this guy, Dr. Timothy Jay, who is "working to develop the social, cognitive science of swearing, which affronts the major perception of cursing as an immoral use of language" (source). Oh, he is definitely my people.

Not only does this professor recognize the "positive uses of [swear] words" such as "their use in humor, their use in bonding, their use as a relief from pain or venting or frustration," but he sees them as "an evolutionary advantage," posing the question: "Why would we have this language? It must do something for us" (source).

I wonder if it would be weird if I drove to Massachusetts and begged him to drink coffee with me.

It's each parent's job to teach children the nuances of language and when profanity is and isn't appropriate.

Alright, as if this isn't enough to make us all swoon (OK, probably not all of us (maybe a few of us? A couple? Close friends and me?), he then clarifies that it's really not that big of a deal to swear in front of your kids, because, as NPR paraphrased, "it's each parent's job to teach children the nuances of language and when profanity is and isn't appropriate" (source).

I just died. I love this man. Yes, yes, and more yes, please.

No thanks on the sheltering

I am so tired of all this "let's just shelter our kids from that which we don't want them to engage" mentality — this idea that hiding our kids from "bad stuff" will result in them avoiding "bad stuff" forever, as if "not exposed" equals "adept at life." In my opinion, this is illogical. We work desperately not to expose our kids to "negative" influences, practices and aspects of life, thinking this will somehow prepare them to handle those very things? Come on. There's no way that makes sense. How are they ever going to learn how to handle life if they're never allowed access to life?

Alright, yeah. I know. Childhood. Innocence. Et cetera. All very important. And you know what? I really think we, as parents, can assess what our kids are ready to hear, see and process. I mean, isn't that sort of what parenting is?

Sometimes it's appropriate. Other times it's not. It's pretty much never "appropriate" for a kid to swear.

Obviously we don't throw the world on our kids' shoulders as they head out to preschool, but I firmly believe that we should allow life, even the dark parts, the confusing, sad parts, the parts of "questionable morality" to seep in as they arise, if we believe our child is ready to process them.

And this professor's swearing philosophy is exactly what I'm talking about. Rather than obsessively sheltering our kids from swearing, why don't we just chill out and teach them about swearing. Sometimes it's appropriate. Other times it's not. It's pretty much never "appropriate" for a kid to swear.

I'll admit it. I cuss around my kids.

Though I'm not my normal sailor self, I certainly let a few out every now and then, particularly if I'm laughing with friends (I mean some jokes just require a bit of the profanity, ya know?), or angry. The anger thing I'm not so proud of, but again, it's reality. (Incidentally, aside from the obligatory toddler-swear (oh come on they all say s*** once, don't they?), my kids don't use profanity. Ever.)

So I explain reality to my kids: Yes, adults swear sometimes, but it's culturally unacceptable for kids to swear. Plus, if you do it it's really going to make Daddy and me look bad, so please don't.

I'm kidding about the last part. Sort of. Not really.

Language is all about context. "Appropriate" is wholly contingent upon who you are and who you're with, what you're doing and why. It does no good to yell at other adults who let a swear word slip out in front of our kids. It does no good to deny that almost all of us swear sometimes.

It does no good because it isn't real. And I want my kids to know real, so they can handle life, the real kind, since once they leave my home, that's pretty much all there is.

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