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Disclaimer: I do not have kids of my own yet, so this is more of a curiosity question.

I'd met some kids via online gaming who were ages 13 or so, and swearing quite skillfully. I think in appropriate situations swear words enhance the language, and my fiancée and I tend to use rather colorful expressions. However, I also find that hearing small children curse without full understanding the meaning of the words is disturbing.

When should I allow a child to swear? How do I know they understand exactly what they're saying? What can I do to ensure they're aware of the offensive meaning and will not use the language where not appropriate?

This question is similar to Why are parents so concerned about profanity around their children? but addresses "When" and not "Why".

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Um... never? I can't think of a single reason when it would be appropriate. It's generally established that swearing is not acceptable. Why would you allow it? –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jul 30 '12 at 20:34
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Thats not entirely true, the word "bugger" (which I will refrain from defining here) has been diluted in New Zealand culture and vernacular to such a point that it was deemed appropriate to use in high profile advertising campaigns. The use and abuse of words are extremely context sensitive and subjective in thier offensiveness. –  Nat Jul 31 '12 at 3:29
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@Torben - I think that wisely used curse words enhance the language. Also, I mean 'child' in biological sense, so the answer can be 21+ or whatnot. Plus I don't say "ouch" when I drop something on my foot. It would be hypocritical of me to scold someone for swearing in a similar situation. However, I'm trying to decide at what age or milestone it becomes 'okay' to use the words. –  Shantali Jul 31 '12 at 13:36
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You need to keep in mind that the acceptability of swearing varies strongly between cultures. I have heard that in the US a child who says f*ck can be suspended from school. This is definitely not the case in Germany, where I live. –  Treb Aug 2 '12 at 12:58
    
It also depends on the teacher - I had one teacher who would tolerate profanity if in context, but another who beat the hell out of me for swearing when I cut my hand through his lack of supervision. –  JBRWilkinson Dec 16 '13 at 18:09

10 Answers 10

up vote 10 down vote accepted

When should I allow a child to swear?

When you feel like you should.

That's really the only valid answer, as it's an extremely personal decision each parent will make on their own. Along with that comes the whole issue of what is a swear word vs. which is not along with context.

I think most would say, in general, parents will frown upon swearing as long as the child lives with them.

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I agree with this answer. I think it's going to vary from household to household, and from situation to situation. I saw lots of kids who thought swearing was awesome because their parents were so restrictive about it, and other kids who didn't care because their parents didn't care. I'm in the second camp; I don't want it to become awesome by taboo. –  mmr Jul 31 '12 at 15:52
    
My parents never swore - in fact even to this day I have never heard them utter anything rude - so I never thought it was big or clever. It certainly wasn't awesome to me, just childish when I heard other kids swear. –  Rory Alsop Aug 5 '12 at 17:03
    
@RoryAlsop Fuck you :D –  bobobobo Dec 11 '13 at 4:13

Why would you ever let your kids swear - even as adults we know that many people are offended, and so even though I may swear in certain select groups, my default behaviour is to never swear and I am generally surprised when I hear others swear.

Children should have no reason to swear (adults shouldn't have any reason to swear, but we figure once you are your own responsibility fair enough, as long as you don't harm others) so I would answer your question with:

Never - my kids know swearing happens, and they have heard all the words at school, but they know that if we hear them swearing before they are 18 they will be in serious trouble!

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There ought to be a room in every house to swear in. It's dangerous to have to repress an emotion like that. Mark Twain, a Biography Also, your answer says "before they are 18". That is not "never" ;) However, why the distinction? Would a 17 year old still be in trouble, even though the level of understanding is pretty much the same? –  Shantali Jul 31 '12 at 13:19
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It isn't about repressing swearing. It isn't one of those base animal instincts to swear. Getting upset? yeah, but you don't need to swear to survive. Swearing to express your emotions shows little creativity. If you feel it is OK to swear, and you let your kids swear that in itself isn't any worse than screaming "THIS SUCKS!" but you will find that the parents of the "good" kids will not let them play with their kids and their influence will come more from the "bad" kids. It is hard to be "good" with "bad" friends, but possible, I did it. –  BillyNair Jul 31 '12 at 17:45
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@Shantali - You can only express frustration and anger using four letter words? Why would you want your children to be so limited? –  thursdaysgeek Aug 2 '12 at 16:22
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@BillyNair-- if your swearing shows little creativity, maybe it's time to put a bit more thought into it :) Besides, I think you'll find that that meme your propagating has more to do with English social attitudes than anything else (viz homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~cpercy/courses/6362-ParkerErin.htm) I've seen some marvelously creative swearing in my time, and would hate to think that such performance art should be removed because it may not be 'necessary to survive.' –  mmr Aug 5 '12 at 17:00
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@Shantali: I guess when he say 18, he really means "when the child is legally independent, and the parents does not really have the rights to tell them what to do". –  awe Aug 8 '12 at 9:09

It is unfortunately a really subjective at what point to let them do this. Especially the online gaming sub-culture has a level of profanity and outright abuse that would be unacceptable in any other social situation.

Our family breaks the issue down into words that are unacceptable in any circumstances (this changes as the kids get older) and words (also tone and attitude) that are unacceptable to direct at another. So this latter category has much stricter rules than the former (but is also easier to justify).

I also don't let them play online as I cannot control who they are interacting with and don't yet want to have to explain T-bagging or any other numerous terms.

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I should also perhaps prevent the kids being in the car when I am driving :) –  Nat Jul 31 '12 at 3:25
    
You can do like Mitt Romney and strap them to the roof of the car! –  BillyNair Aug 1 '12 at 20:54
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I like your distinction between unacceptable words, and unacceptable behavious towards others. I find it completely ok to say sh*t when my hammer hits my thumb instead of the nail I was aiming for, but calling someone you b*tch is a no go. –  Treb Aug 2 '12 at 12:55

I swore worse than a navy gunner in high school, but I feel that it restricted my opportunities in the past. I know kids will be around swearing in school but I don't want them to think I feel it is OK because kids at school swear. When we watch movies I make them say "Don't say bad words" to the TV to get them into the habit of being aware of it and that I am not OK with it. If they don't say it, I stop the movie. This way, even if they do end up swearing in high school, at least they will be more aware of the fact that some people are not accepting of it and they can turn it off in situations that they should not be swearing.

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How did it restrict your opportunities? Also, at what age did you start thinking that it did? –  Shantali Jul 31 '12 at 13:36
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I grew up in a pretty small community and because I swore and hung out with the skaters (I rode BMX) people assumed I was one of the druggies. A burglary happened near my house and I was a prime suspect, it wasn't until another cop took over who knew me that the focus shifted to the person that actually did it. There were chances where I should have been promoted to management but wasn't, and I didn't care at the time but it is effecting me income now since I am still an "Employee". I didn't start thinking about it until I was about 28 and decided I was going to stop (unless I am driving ;-) –  BillyNair Jul 31 '12 at 17:39

Asides from all the obvious places/situations they shouldn't be swearing, we allow our kids to mirror our swearing. The interesting thing is that you get "mirror feedback" on your own language. My (very cliche Italian) wife was quite surprised to hear her own language mirrored back.

The beauty of this is it teaches "syncing" at an early age. The less they hear it from you, the less they are apt to repeat it.

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You are asking the wrong question. Your question really is, how can I sensitize my children to understand the context of people with which they are interacting and choose their language and manner of expression accordingly?

If that is your question, then all you have to do, is to let them listen to the language of those around them. If they are on a playground, where there is a lot of yelling, and "throw me the ball!" and such, then such expression is also appropriate. If they are in an arcade, where there is a lot of "Yeah man!" And "darn it!", then that is the language to use there. And if they are at home having guests for dinner, then there is a certain manner of expression that is appropriate there also.

Paying attention to the context and making sure not to offend your guests, or the people you are talking with, is key in every situation.

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Profanity is habit forming. People who regularly swear in one type of situation will struggle to prevent themselves swearing in another situation (some people will be able to manage this better than others though).

For this reason, my family takes a lowest-common-denominator approach (or should that be highest?!). If a word is unacceptable at school, or at a friend's household, then it's unacceptable in our household.

There are situations where swearing is ok though; when children are developing their speech and vocabulary they tend to play with rhyming and pretend words. eg they might just go through a string of words like muck duck puck luck f**k ruck kuck huck and swear by chance (this has happened several times with my daughter). Avoiding paying attention on the swear word stated will mean they don't remember the word. If you scold them for it, they will learn that it's a word of interest to them sooner than they otherwise would. However, if other people (especially children) are around who know about the word spoken, you'll need to make a call on what's appropriate.

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I don't think kids should ever be ENCOURAGED to swear, but I do think some space needs to be made to allow for an occasional curse word. As a middle school teacher I had to figure out how to handle this question with my students in a way that would be appropriate for the classroom and allow room for kids from a variety of backgrounds coming from a variety of expectations in the home. I have found the answer I used with them to suit very nicely at home with my own child as well. I always told my students they would sound more intelligent and have more success if they used a wide-ranging vocabulary and used it in a precise manner.

They were always surprised to hear me say, "Profanity actually has its place or it wouldn't exist." the less surprising part was what I said next, "However, profanity when used frequently or in the wrong context actually makes a person look less intelligent." The kids knew I saw my job as one to help them prepare for a career.

What this boiled down to with my kids was, if you've hurt yourself so badly you may need the paramedics I will overlook the use of an explicative. If you are using these words in places where no word at all is needed or where a different word is better suited, I will make sure to educate you about the multitude of better vocabulary options available to you (which meant a detention getting cozy with the dictionary figuring out alternative words that would have been MORE powerful replacements for their chosen word - usually took them about 15 minutes to come up with a satisfactory list).

The first or second time there was a slip, I just gave a warning, but if students (or my child) started regularly using profanity or used it as a form of "name calling" then I certainly require a list of other, more meaningful words to choose from. The words should express the idea she want to express in a more constructive way.

Even at six, my daughter knows that is essentially my attitude about these "bad words", and understands and uses her vocabulary appropriately to match (in other words, at this point she doesn't curse or swear).

I guess I'd recommend a similar tact. Wait until it comes up. Then, for the most part, don't allow swearing (with a reasoned and calm explanation, not an out and out ban), but overlook it occasionally as the situation indicates. The reason my six-year-old knows any of this, is that she has seen me interacting with teens, not that I explicititly said anything about it at some pre-determined age.

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We have always allowed swearing, openly and uncensored, in our household, with the exception of racial slurs or sexual choice words ("gay"). Those are taboo. We also don't allow swear words to be used to hurt or demean others (I.e. In an argumentative context). Beyond that, used as expletives or emphasis, we have always allowed our kids to use them freely, as do we. We temper this with a healthy dose of education about when certain swear words are permitted and when they aren't ("always at our house, never at the grandparents' house"). It has always worked like a charm and our kids are happy and well-adjusted kids.

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When is not actually a good question, because it is ambiguous. It could refer to either the child's age or a situation in which the swearing would be allowed.

To address both parts of the question:

Age: I believe a child below 10 years should be prohibited to swear at all. All swear words shoud be punished, however you see fit - but the child should have no doubts to what he is punished for. Later, gradually, I would lower the "threshold" for punishing: a cut finger, destroyed favourite toy, a loss in an important online match should be allowed a single "f***". The choice of allowed situations should suit parents. If you do not swear at all - then do not allow it at all.

Situations: I personally hate people who put swear words into every sentence. It is very common here in Poland, to use "fu**" practically as a comma. I can not stand that and I would focus my efforts to get rid of such behavior if my child developed such habit. However, I would be pretty comfortable with my 16 year old used a swear word if he broke a mug or hurt himself.

Gender: it may not be politically correct, but I think that women should swear less than men, preferably not swear at all. Whenever I hear a girl/woman swear, especially when it is unnecessary, it really grinds my gears.

Some more thoughts: I would never encourage swearing. If your kid does not catch the bad habit at school, don't ever introduce it.

To sum up - as always, try to use common sense. Choose your reaction based on all factors you deem important: age, sex, situation, present people, wherabouts, and so on. Try to be consistent with your punishments and their situations. Make sure you are comfortable with the type and amount of swearing your kid does. React if that threshold is exceeded.

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