Kids and Swearing: Is There A Plus Side?

kids and swearing

Kids and swearing, or maybe you call it using “cuss words” or a more hoity-toity “profanity.” Should kids still be admonished about using curse words in our day and age? Or do we now live in a world where swearing is just colorful language that lets off steam–otherwise known as “sticks and stones can break my bones but names can never hurt me?”

Should we take the stance that says swear words don’t hurt anyone? And if swear words DON’T hurt anyone, why should they be seen as a problem? They’re after all, just words.

In fact, there’s proof that cursing can be beneficial. Back in 2009, scientists discovered that swearing enabled study participants to keep their hands in ice water for a longer period of time than repeatedly saying a word that commonly describes a table. The researchers concluded that swearing increases pain tolerance.

Now my late father used to say that people who use profanity have poor vocabularies. Surely they’d use better words, if only they had them. And while I certainly saw the merit of this concept, as a writer–someone who loves words–swear words are ultimately “colorful” language, and why would the use of colorful language be a bad thing?

In fact, one study says people use more creative swear words when they are feeling emotional. Can I as a writer think of the unleashing of creative utterances to be a bad thing? Especially on those days where I stare at a blank WORD document, and nothing comes to mind?

It’s confusing.

But if you stop to think about it, the thing that separates man from the animals is mainly found in man’s ability to speak. Shouldn’t we, as loftier, more intelligent creations, be careful to use pristine language, to bear testimony to our higher rung in the hierarchy of living beings? And shouldn’t we as parents, strive to use clean language for our children to emulate?

Not to mention, there’s the issue of abuse.

Imagine being told all the time that you’re no &$#@ing good. That’s bound to have an effect. Now imagine you’re a child in your formative years and your PARENT is saying that to you. Do you see where this is going?

Abuse Meme

Abusive language is, of course, never okay. It’s almost certain that the use of swear words increases the shock value and the negative impact of verbal abuse.

But this can work both ways.

Kids And Swearing At Parents

Let’s say you just told your daughter she’s grounded until her grades improve and she lets off with a string of colorful swear words. As a parent, I know I’d feel pretty shocked to hear this type of language coming out of my daughter’s mouth. Much more so than having her just yell and scream and call me “the worst parent in the world,” for instance.Man swearing

But of course, if in your home, swear words are par for the course; the words wouldn’t have as much impact or shock value. Professor Stephens pretty much says this in the video clip and audio file mentioned above. If you swear all the time, it isn’t going to be effective as a means of pain control. It’s not going to allow you to keep your hand in ice water for a longer period of time. The words lose their power with frequent use.

I’m no scientist, but as a writer, I would compare this loss of power to the hackneyed cliché. The cliché may have been awesome the year it was invented, but when they pass into common use, clichés become, well, cliché.  The use of clichés is frowned upon by writers because they are unoriginal and overused. They have lost their impact with use. The writer must be called upon to think up ever and ever more creative ways to say things in order to grab the readers’ attention.

So back to swear words: if frequent use makes them lose their power, wouldn’t it be better if we were to reserve curse words for extreme situations? For instance, when we’re injured and in pain (God forbid)? After all, who doesn’t want their words to have an impact? And if curse words, used judiciously, can offer pain release, why not reserve them for this use?

Neighbor Kids And Swearing

Of course, there’s a difference between swear words said by adults and swear words coming from the mouth of a child. Hearing a young child swear is somehow much more shocking than the sound of an adult saying cuss words. At least some of us would cringe on hearing a neighbor’s child curse. Another bunch of us might wonder what’s up with that child’s upbringing.

And if your child is approximately the same age as THAT child, you might decide your child shouldn’t play with this “bad influence.” That, in turn, could end up making things tense between you and your neighbor, not to mention you and your child. The neighbor feels judged and your child doesn’t understand why you’re so closed minded.

Finally, there is the issue of do what I say and not as I do. If we’ve already established that swear words coming from a child are not pretty, then what does it say when Mom and Dad are allowed to swear in extreme situation–such as when one of them sustains a burn while taking something out of the oven–but their children are forbidden the use of such words? I think it says that Mom and Dad aren’t perfect. I think it says it’s best not to use swear words, but that sometimes Mom and Dad forget.

Some would say that getting cut off is a good reason to curse.
Some would say that getting cut off is a good reason to curse. But in front of the children? Hmmmmmm.
Oops. Someone FORGOT it's not nice to swear.
Oops. Someone FORGOT it’s not nice to swear.

How you want to handle this in your home is of course, up to you completely. As for me, I’ve told my kids they have permission to remind me that I’m trying not to use swear words when I use them. And I always apologize and thank them for reminding me.

Kids And Swearing As Power Play

Some might say that’s giving children WAY too much power, but to me, it’s about a powerful concept, rather than a power play. Our words can elevate or be used as the ultimate put down. They have the power to decrease pain when used properly, and they have the power to move a reader or a friend.

I want my kids to know that words have power, but that the power of words is mainly found in using them judiciously.

And that’s my final word.

What’s yours?




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About Varda Epstein

Varda Meyers Epstein serves as editor in chief of Smarter Parenting. A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Varda is the mother of 12 children and is also a grandmother of 12. Her work has been published in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Learning Site, The eLearning Site, and Internet4Classrooms.

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