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I've spent some time around parents of children in the 2months to 6 years range. And both were quite diligent about having me watch what I said, in particular around profanity.

Why the concern?

For parents looking for WHEN to allow such language, there is a similar question Here

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6  
+1 for asking an interesting question. I dislike profanity, but asking "why" is good. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jul 5 '11 at 7:17
    
It’s better if they discover swearing later, because then this is funnier: youtube.com/watch?v=6AXPnH0C9UA –  Paul D. Waite Jul 6 '11 at 14:02

7 Answers 7

up vote 49 down vote accepted

Because children in that age range are learning language skills rapidly, and primarily by listening to what adults say.

If they hear a new word, they will almost certainly try to use that word, even if they do not understand what the word means (which is frequently the case). It is how they learn.

Obviously you aren't offended by profanity, but believe it or not, many people are. It is, after all, intended to be... well... profane.

Using profanity in school can cause problems for both children and their parents. Once they start using profanity, it becomes difficult to get them to stop, as most attempts only teach the child that there is something "special" about those words, and that those words are more likely to get some sort of response, whether positive or negative.

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+1 for having a dead-on answer. I'm in the un-offended camp when it comes to profanity, but I'm still watching it around my 4 year old. Until he can understand the difference between the language he uses at home and what he uses in the company of others, I need to avoid him learning any profanities. –  Saiboogu Jul 5 '11 at 14:42
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+1 for describing what happens with young children and language development –  Squidly Jul 6 '11 at 2:21
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+1 from me Beofett, especially regarding schooling. Social growth is as important educational in my view too. –  Hairy Jul 12 '11 at 12:58
    
Schools are concerned about profanity because the society are concerned of profanity. The society are concerned about profanity because some parents are concerned by profanity. Parents are concerned of profanity because society are concerned of profanity. WTF? –  Lie Ryan Jul 13 '11 at 15:24
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Ironically, I swear more now that I'm a father than I ever did before I had kids... What? I never used to have people pulling my chest hair for giggles!! –  corsiKa Oct 9 '12 at 18:55

This is a tricky one. I don't like profanity around my kids, but the eldest (coming up 8) knows enough bad words, and can maturely act around the words. The middle child is just expanding on speech so picks these things up very quickly. I try to encourage the oldest one to see that swearing is just an extension of language, used mainly when stupid people have run out of the right words to say, when people are trying to elicit a reaction, or when people are trying to be funny. I am trying to teach her that it's ok, sometimes, to use profanities, in the right context.

This may sound extremely silly, but we also have a game where we try and insult each other, by putting together interesting words and not swearing.

When I was a kid, I lived in Germany, on an Army base. Aged 6 (I can quite clearly remember it), I was playing a game and when I lost, I was told the forfeit was to say something very rude (as I now know it to be), to a cantankerous old German woman who cleaned the officers houses. I did, and she fair beat the crap out of me. Taught me an interesting lesson...

I don't really swear; I am not really often in a situation in which swearing would add value to the situation, but I do understand that it is all about, and you shouldn't really keep it underground with a kid who is bright enough to get it.

I am also teaching her that in other languages, swearing and insulting people is an interesting part of the culture. In the 1960's, we lived in Hong Kong and I still marvel at how Cantonese people speak to each other. Russians have an equally interesting take on insults.

As an aside, my 8 year old is just starting to understand irony properly and, for me, it's a stepping stone to really getting into, really understanding languages. I think profanity is similar in this fact too.

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Don't know why, but your post reminds me of the father from "Thank you for smoking" –  Swati Dec 15 '11 at 2:40
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+3 for "used mainly when stupid people have run out of the right words to say". (+1 for the rest... Good answer). –  awe Aug 8 '12 at 9:20

This question is rhetorical because it answered itself by using the word "profanity". The definition of profanity in Wikipedia is

"Profanity is a show of disrespect, or a desecration or debasement of someone or something. Profanity can take the form of words, expressions, gestures, or other social behaviors that are socially constructed or interpreted as insulting, rude, vulgar, obscene, desecrating, or other forms."

Based on this definition, profanity is not acceptable in front of anyone irrespective of age. Certainly, we do not want to teach profanity to our children hoping to improve future social civility.

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obviously, "profanity" is acceptable in many subcultures - the question relates to children, not general society –  Scott Weinstein Dec 9 '11 at 0:52

At that age, kids have the ability to assimilate the new words into their speech, but do not have the experience or ability to discern when it's appropriate to use the words. It's just no fun at all (and often highly counter-productive to some practical task at hand) to have a kid in tow and them them say something totally inappropriate (and offensively so) when around other people.

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  • Although there are social situations where profanity is acceptable, those are often uniquely suited to adult venues (bars, some sporting events, etc.), but in general, profanity in everyday use is frowned upon. My children can't understand this conceptually, and until they can, I would rather they simply not use profanity. When they are older they can decide whether or not the stigma is worth it.
  • Profanity is often used as a way to vent anger or frustration, or even express joy. As adults we may perceive this to be a healthy outlet, but for children especially, it is better to get them to explain exactly why they are feeling the way that they are in order to help with emotional and language development.
  • Personally, I find that people that use profanity in the course of general conversation have difficulty expressing themselves otherwise, and this prevents me from understanding exactly the point they are trying to make. It's like someone is shouting at you all the time, or writes all emails in caps. It brings with it a constant air of bitterness... I don't want other children and adults to think my child is bitter and jaded.
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Its not just profanity but other words that are derisive of other people etc. Adults in public or the media will throw around various derisive terms, knowingly or unknowingly (or 'jokingly'), that children will learn and say.

Your child will start speaking like your crazy relatives. They learn by imitation.

And once kids learn something it is very hard for them to unlearn it.

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I remember saying hello to one of my daughter's friends when she was five-ish. The friend's response was "f***ing a***hole." She repeated this many times and thought it a great joke.

I tend to curse like a sailor but did not find this funny or cute. With children, language spreads like a virus so we stopped encouraging our daughter from playing with the girl until she grew out of this phase. This may not be fair on the child, but our child would suffer a similar fate.

Children have no filter and tend to crave attention - swearing gives them a reaction.

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