My 10-year-old son sent a message on his iPad through a word game to a family friend that was beyond inappropriate and had cuss words in it. She told her parents, who told us. We are both upset and shocked, but disagree on what to do.

I grounded him for two weeks with no television, sent him up to his room with books only, took away the iPad forever, made him pull weeds all day, and will have him continue for the next four days with chores while he is on spring break. He also personally apologized to the girl.

My husband thinks he should also not get to play any more baseball for the rest of the season but I think that is too harsh. He has been caught cussing before but we just sent him to bed early or took away the iPad. His iPad, I thought, had all the messaging apps taken off it. I just don't know what to do; we are both so mad.

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    Without going into too much detail, what was the nature of the message? Was the problem just the choice of language? Had the message not had any cuss words in it would it have been as offensive/garnered the same reaction? Was your son bullying the girl? If it was just copious use of cuss words, this is a common stage where children push boundaries - they've heard the words being used on tv, by adults, and believe that it makes them older/more mature/tougher/etc by using them. If that's all this is, more punishment isn't necessary here (and personally what has been done may be over-much).
    – Doc
    Commented Apr 22, 2014 at 15:57
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    Cursing is not that bad. Especially for a 10 year old. Commented Mar 11, 2017 at 23:31

5 Answers 5


You haven't described the exact nature of your son's message, but it seems to me that the multiple punishments you have given him will certainly have transmitted YOUR message by now regarding the attitude of you and your husband to his action.

At this point I'd suggest that you both start to switch your focus from how to punish him further to finding out what motivated his message in the first place. At the age of 10, I assume that by now he has the capacity to explain his feelings and motivations reasonably coherently. If you can get to the bottom of the reason for his behaviour, you will be in a much better position to anticipate the possibility of any repetitions, and to devise strategies for helping him to deal with any frustrations or other issues in a more constructive manner.

Meanwhile, I recommend that you and your husband should first actively try to calm yourselves down from your state of heightened emotion. If you are still visibly displaying anger towards your son, any attempts on your part to open two-way communication with him so that you can gather some information about why he behaved as he did will very likely fail, because he won't want to expose himself to the possibility of further punishment and/or other recriminations. There must come a point at which you and your son have to be ready to let go of your negative feelings towards each other to enable the life of your household to return to normal, and your son probably won't be able to do that until you can.

You might also find the answer from balanced mama to this question useful:

Does a child need to apologize and how should I react while it does not?

  • Yes, I like that answer a lot. Even though I hate "educational" themes in TV shows, this reminds me on a specific episode of That '70s Show that depicts Red as the evil punisher and Kitty as the balanced one. Unfortunately, in the OP's scenario, Kitty is missing.
    – daraos
    Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 11:10

Parents are the one who set the example. I don't think such punishments as pulling weeds in your yards or going to bed early will make him realize why normal decent human beings do not curse. Talk to him on this matter, explain why people who express themselves such as, are not respected and are not considered to be educated or smart. Especially when the words were addressed to a female which lowers his standards of female respect.

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    I may be being picky, and things may be different in the US, but I wouldn't say 'decent human beings do not curse'. Rather, well adjusted members of society know what language is appropriate for their audience. Swearing is a personal choice, and since words are not magic they do not matter unless they offend the audience. At which point, the rules of society dictate who is in the wrong. At the same time, I entirely agree that awareness of his attitude towards women is a key concern.
    – Phil H
    Commented Jun 6, 2014 at 14:24

Back when I was a kid, we had to do lines and lots of them.

Write out by hand 500 times (at 26 lines or so per page double spaced, this is around 20 pages):

"I will not use bad language when online or anywhere else"

It's not painful, it's not physical, but it's intensely boring, and after doing that he won't want to repeat the lines again for quite a while.

Until the lines are done, no going out, no sports, no T.V., no online anything.

For what it's worth, we cheated a bit by going vertically. Is then wills etc. but the message did get through, and the teachers knew it, but didn't complain.

If they do it again, simply repeat the punishment.

Also, who knows, his handwriting might improve.

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    Reminds me of Bart Simpson...
    – Alexander
    Commented May 12, 2015 at 11:37

This behavior is called "cyberbullying" and has become very common with kids as soon as messaging begins (usually around the 4th grade) and has become a very big topic in schools. Boys tend to cyberbully by sexting and girls tend to do more gossip and exclusion. It's taken seriously; I know one high school girl who is having to do high school from home because she was involved in cyberbullying another girl.

You've definitely done an appropriate amount of punishing, but now it's time to step back, relax, and try to educate him going forward. Kids are going to do bad things, and especially starting now, they will be looking to push boundaries. Cracking down is of limited value, you need to be proactive.

Here's an except from "If Your Child Is a Cyberbully" with some next steps:

  • Educate your child about cyberbullying. Your child may not understand how hurtful and damaging their behavior can be. Foster empathy and awareness by encouraging your child to look at their actions from the victim’s perspective. Remind your child that cyberbullying can have very serious legal consequences.
  • Manage stress. Teach your child positive ways to manage stress. Your child’s cyberbullying may be an attempt at relieving stress. Or your own stress, anxiety, or worry may be creating an unstable home environment. Exercise, spending time in nature, or playing with a pet are great ways for both kids and adults to let off steam and relieve stress.
  • Set limits with technology. Let your child know you’ll be monitoring his or her use of computers, tablets, smartphones, email, and text messaging. If necessary, remove access to technology until behavior improves.
  • Establish consistent rules of behavior. Make sure your child understands your rules and the punishment for breaking them. Children may not think they need discipline, but a lack of boundaries sends a signal that the child is unworthy of the parents’ time, care, and attention.

There may be seminars at school or resources your school counselor has on this topic (I know they do here in Texas, and I attended a cyberbullying seminar at a local elementary school). Most of the information is usually more tuned to how to detect if your child is cyberbullied and prevention from the victim's angle, but there's definitely some information from that point of view (it's not actually much different from traditional bullying, it's just using a new venue technology has made possible, so older works on preventing bullying in your child will apply just as well).

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    Honest here, I have downvoted this answer for one reason: You assume - with no evidence - that the child was bullying. This very well may not be the case, and unless specified I would assume it isn't. Using inappropriate language does not mean the child was bullying anyone.
    – Doc
    Commented Apr 22, 2014 at 15:51
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    The girl complained to her parents about the message, as explained in the question, so it's pretty obvious that's what's going on here. A harassing message with inappropriate language is cyberbullying by definition. You may be responding based on an antiquated notion of bullying and that it's "big boys physically pushing others around" but that's not the definition, any more at least.
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Apr 22, 2014 at 16:03
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    Alternatively, the boy said "I fucking hate this god damned game, it's a piece of shit", and the girl (whose age wasn't specified but is presumably around only 10) told her parents because that's completely inappropriate language. If the OP verifies that there was in fact bullying, rest assured I will immediately switch my downvote to an upvote.
    – Doc
    Commented Apr 22, 2014 at 16:06
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    A message with inappropriate language is not "cyberbullying by definition". Part of the definition of bullying in general is "Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once." We cannot assume from the information provided that A) the message was harassing (it may not have even been directed at the girl, as Doc pointed out), or B) that it had the potential to be repeated (again, for the same reasons Doc pointed out).
    – user420
    Commented Apr 23, 2014 at 13:40
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    Sure, sure, I'd put $20 on the message being hostile whenever @Jess shows back up to clarify - "beyond inappropriate and had cuss words in it" is a signal to me that it wasn't just collegial cursing.
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Apr 23, 2014 at 13:44

you should stay calm and speak calmly to your child. seek family therapy. Clearly define your goals to better determine how to approach the situation. You may also need to put together a “team” to help you. talk about the consequences. don't blame him, listen to your child.

  • Your link was broken (I removed it.) You based te majority of your answer on an assumption of bullying. Why? Wat evidence did you gather from the OP that there was bullying? Please include that information in your answer. Commented May 11, 2019 at 16:49

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