If you really think about it, why do you think it is that people don’t let their kids swear? Who, really, is offended by swearing these days? Are you personally bothered by hearing the odd ‘for fuck’s sake!’ or ‘oh, shit’ or are you more worried about what other people will think?
I struggle to believe that most people really and truly care very much what other people say, just as I have realised that most people aren’t listening to your opinions, looking at your hair, noticing the spot by your eye or judging your new shoes. I reckon they really don’t care if you (and by extension, your kids) swear because they’re too wrapped up in their own struggles to think long and hard about your choices.
Some people will claim that it’s a sign of a small mind or a small vocabulary to swear. Well, like Stephen Fry, I absolutely disagree and I certainly disagree in the case of my children. To them, those swear words they know are just some more words, just two or three more words amongst many thousands they hear and use every day. They know there are words and phrases that adults use more than kids (give me your washing /turn the tv off/oh for fuck’s sake) but they don’t see them as being particularly hilarious, possibly because they’re not forbidden and therefore less interesting. In fact, my kids spend as much time as every other kid discussing poo and wee and bums and they certainly find those words funnier than ‘grown up words’.
My kids are five and three. They hear swearing at home fairly regularly because their parents, me in particular, are potty mouthed. However, the swearing they hear is directed, limited, never aimed at a person and never, ever derogatory. They will specifically never hear a word that will denigrate a woman (despite my desire to reclaim the ‘c word’ as a positive thing, it’s still not a word in my personal arsenal of swears). What they hear in the house is probably limited to ‘oh, for fuck’s sake’ and the occasional ‘shit’ or ‘sodding’. Oh, maybe it’s not that I have a small vocabulary that’s the problem here, it’s that I have a small swearing vocabulary. I’ll work on it, I promise.
Originally we didn’t lay down any rules around swearing because SB (5) just wasn’t that in to it. Sure, he’s been heard to mutter ‘for fuck’s sake’ when we’ve asked him to do something awful like tidy up or go to bed but nothing more. Only once he started school did we have a serious conversation about all the swears and how while we are extremely liberal in some of our opinions, many other people are not. He knows not to swear at school and he understands that other adults may judge him (and us) for it if he does.
And then came number two. She’s a dirty mouthed little bugger. She is three and she loves to swear. If asked to find her socks, for example, she will generally then wander around muttering, ‘where are the sodding socks?’ or some such delight. She also likes to just yell ‘fuck’ sometimes which is less endearing. She has had all the same chats as her brother about swearing in the house as opposed to outside but she just don’t give a damn, yet.
Even if she does swear at school or in the playground, it won’t actually matter very much in the long run. Some kids bite and kick, mine may possibly, one day, yell ‘fuck’ in public when dropping something on a toe. Big deal.
- Never swear at anyone
- Don’t swear for no reason
- Don’t swear outside of the house…unless it’s really valid
- Understand that mummy and daddy are liberal and allow things other adults don’t necessarily accept so other adults may react badly to swear words
So, is there really a lack of linguistic creativity in my kids if they swear? I’d offer a resounding ‘no’ because they don’t know that the swear words are any different from any other words. They hear them used appropriately and are figuring out how to also use them appropriately. While you may find it odd to hear a child looking for her sodding socks, or responding to a request he doesn’t want to fulfil with a ‘for fuck’s sake’, you can’t deny they’re using the words correctly. They don’t litter their speech with swear words any more than we do and they are choosing from their ever expanding vocabularies to find the words that fit their needs. What can it matter if my happy, well-adjusted kid says ‘fuck’ once in a while? I reckon the worst that’ll happen is someone will misjudge my family and assume we’re ill educated, which we know isn’t true so really won’t hurt us.
Personally, I’m more bothered by my kids telling me they hate someone or something because they don’t really hate anything. They may not like x or y but they’re too young to understand the depth of emotion and the energy that has to go in to hating anything. That, to me, is more of an example of language misuse than swearing.
The way I see it, we’re giving our kids a few more words for their literary arsenal so that when something goes wrong, they have the words to express it. We don’t really react when the kids swear in front of us (unless it’s really freaking hilarious) but we might calmly explain why a particular swear wasn’t necessary or was out of place. We always try offer an alternative too.
I also think that in some ways, by allowing our kids to swear, we strengthen our family unit. We tell the children that there are certain behaviours we allow that others don’t, and explain that we like to think through our decisions rather than just blindly follow societal norms. We don’t have a shared religious belief to bring us together, but we do have shared liberal views over which to bond!
To sum up: society is conditioned to react to swearing, don’t follow the crowd, actively think about it, decide what it that makes YOU think something is wrong and set your own personal limits.