Why are we so against swearing in front of our kids? Really? Every child becomes a teen and every teen sidles up to bad words and starts to throw them around to see what they can do. Then every teen grows up to become an adult who can take or leave these words depending on who they are and what they do for a living. I can tell you that as a writer it is almost inevitable that I swear. Words are my business and the way that an occasional F rolls off my tongue is more effective than punching that person in the face. And there are significantly fewer law suits.
Which brings me to my next point – all children will be exposed to colourful language. There is absolutely nothing you can do about it. One day your child will overhear you or an aunt or a naughty man on the bus and will mimic the exact tone and word. “Oh F**k!” as they drop their toy.
Isn’t it also interesting to note that swear words are very easily absorbed by the young, sometimes more so than the average word. Their meaning is very, very clear. They can capture a mood in one, sweet syllable and are rich with intent.
So why do we run about blocking our children’s ears and gasping in horror when that bad word scampers into the air? I think it is faintly ridiculous. Now I am not about to suggest that you march about the house effing and blinding and using (heaven forbid) the C word as much as you please. Swearing occasionally in front of your offspring and not making a gigantic deal about it is hardly the same as transforming your child into a potty mouth.
“My daughter and I were on our way into school when one of the kids in front of us started to throw a tantrum,” said Cindy Westbrook. “This little boy couldn't have been more than four and he turned to his mother, hit her and called her a c**t. I just stood there in total shock.”
For Cindy the swear word reflected badly on the parent and she instantly labelled the family as one she didn't fancy getting to know. Jacqui van den Handel adds another layer to this observation:
“Swearing, especially at work, comes across as if the perpetrator is incapable of controlling their temper and doesn't have much self-control,” she says. “I find that they don’t get as much respect and I always feel that you can use other words to the same effect, you don’t need to swear.”
She has a point. If you say the word “Flab” with the same intent as the “other” word, the result is the same. Try it on your kids. I did and was told to not say a bad word. And I was given a lecture. Many of the parents I spoke to pointed out that they swore from time to time and didn’t necessarily have a terrifying moratorium on the words, but that it was their children who corrected them.
“Saint Kayla doesn’t actually allow swearing in our home – even the words ‘idiot’ and ‘stupid’ muttered under your breath in traffic are frowned upon,” says Shelli Nurcombe-Thorne. “She did once slip up and say ‘I’m going to say that I’ve buggered this up because I can’t think of another word right now’ which resulted in me nearly choking to death on a large piece of hot cross bun.”
“I get told off for swearing!” says Lynley Hiddlestone. “You can’t hide swearing from kids, not when you live in a city. Slip-ups are good in that it helps them to hear what they are saying and watch out for it.”
So what is acceptable? On a scale of Damn to the C-word, what is just fine and dandy in the home and what can your kids get away with? I asked a few parents what they thought…
“I will not let my children swear and I won’t swear in front of them,” says Jacqui.
“When my child recently asked me where their f**king paper was I had an inkling that my language may have bled out a bit from my adult world,” says Cath Jameson. “My daughter knows what swear words are and now knows never to use them. I don’t think hearing me swear has done her any harm at all, although if she repeated this in school I’d be the one having a fit.”
“In our house, anything goes except the F-bomb,” says Leanne Dryburgh.
“From when our kids were young they were aware of swear words so we created a game to see what word would best replace the swear word,” says Ingrid Lotze. “Both my kids got an A for English in Matric.”
“My boys have taken to calling their middle finger The F Finger,” says Thando Moyokane. “I have no idea where that comes from, but they know they are not supposed to use the finger or the word!”
Swearing doesn't seem to be as big a deal today as it was when I was a kid and I know that my daughter is far prissier than I am. We would never allow the F-word or C-word (or any other language equivalent) in our home unless by accident, but the occasional bad word bomb is hardly going to stunt their growth and destroy their lives.
I will swear in front of my child, but it won’t be because I am actively trying to rebel against some invisible system that says I can’t. It will be because I happen to swear when something happened that, to me, warranted that word. And because I am a potty mouth journalist with a passion for the mayhem of language.
Do you think it's not a big deal for kids to swear?
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