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Playground Speak - It's Out of Line Sometimes

By Yvette Vignando - 21st October 2010

We have three boys and like many other kids, I suspect, they have had a tendency to refer to things they don't like as "gay" or even "retarded". This is playground speak and some people might advise me to just let it go. But I detest this kind of language coming from kids or anyone. Ironically, there are members of our extended family who are actually gay and who do actually have disabilities, so teaching our kids to use the right kind of adjectives seems more than just being politically correct. So I do - I pull our kids up every time they use those kinds of words out of context.

And on that point, I have been accused of being overly sensitive to how people use language. But language is a tool that can be more damaging than the proverbial "sticks and stones" and I feel strongly that children need to learn about its impact and develop some empathy for people who might overhear their innocent but 'wrong' descriptions of things they don't like.

I read an article about a teacher called Bob Parlin who launched the first straight-gay alliance in a public school in the United States. He started by letting his colleagues know he was gay. In the article Parlin is quoted as saying "It's better to act out of hope than fear, and empathy is a powerful tool in dissolving prejudice." It reminded me of needing to infuse my insistence on correct adjectives with an explanation to our kids about how other people might feel when they hear them use the words "gay" or "retarded". I would be upset if other people thought that our children actually felt anything negative about homosexuality or people with disabilities because, apart from some childish ignorance, they don't.

So I'm going to stay on my high horse and keep insisting on better use of adjectives. Do you think I'm going too far here?

image freedigitalphotos.net Gregory Szarkiewicz

Comments (4)

YvetteVignando's picture

Correcting an Adult

Oh me too Jodie - impossible (almost) to correct an adult. I'm pretty straight up with my close friends and would jokingly tell them off I think - but everyone else - I just sit there feeling annoyed!

Jodie at Mummy Mayhem's picture

Some Adults Have The Same Problem!

I agree Yvette. I don't like the use of these words, and if I heard my 3 boys using them, I'd be correcting them.

But what about parents? I have a friend whose husband has often said to his kids, "What are you...retarded or something?" and I don't like it. He has used it around my kids too.

Also, on Twitter yesterday, a girl I really like also used 'retarded' in a tweet, and I was going to DM her and say, 'You shouldn't use that', but I chickened out!

I'd have no problem telling a child - other's children included - to watch their mouths, but have a problem telling adults the same thing! They are examples to their kids. Not always good ones.

Transforme's picture

Totally Agree

I agree with you Yvette.

I know the children don't mean it to be derogatory or nasty but it does sound awful and it's the use of these sorts of words in apparently innocent ways that is almost indirect discrimination.

Think about the use of the word "nigger". Nowadays we would NEVER consider using the word yet for many years it was considered by many to be acceptable and harmless.

I really can't stand political correctness just for the sake of it but I agree that we need to try to educate our children about why these words aren't appropriate.

Thanks
Suellen

Hooray!

I'm not the only stick-in-the-mud here. :) I used to teach at university and whenever a student said something was gay I'd say something like "what, it's well dressed and fun to shop with?" I know that's reinforcing stereotypes, but at least it would make the student stop and think about what they were saying. I'd then make sure that the whole class knew I had a zero tolerance policy for that sort of thing in my classroom and all my friends know they won't get away with saying it around me either.

I must confess I do occasionally say things are retarded though. :\ I tend to think of it in a more literal sense though: retarded as in delayed or backwards in general, not so much as in "a mentally disabled person."

It is rather tricky navigating these things...

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