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Children Swearing - How Do You Handle it in Your Family?

By Yvette Vignando - 15th February 2011

I often swim with some girlfriends at our local gym. It's great for the exercise, the post-swim coffee time and to talk about the critical issues of the day - the latest topic was our kids swearing. Each family has different levels of tolerance for swearing and even within a family, two parents would often have different views.

I remember when our oldest son was at preschool how shocked I was by some of the bad words used by his peers who had older siblings. My shock wore off pretty fast as we now have 3 boys who have demonstrated to me how easily this happens. We're very clear in our household that swearing is not allowed but still, it happens. Sometimes, (shock horror), a swear word has even passed our "perfect" parent's lips (that was written with irony.)

Our teens are surrounded by swearing and abusive words in the school playground, on the school buses and in their text messages - so much more than when I was at school; swearing is the new "adjective". Teen boys and girls use phrases that sound incredibly offensive (to me) almost as terms of endearment towards each other - it feels strange to me, but I'm assuming this is a passing phase?

Please understand - I'm not shocked or even offended by adults using bad language in the right context (which I find quite hard to define). Plenty of my good IRL friends and Twitter friends use a few words here and there for emphasis and even though I might not use the same expressions as often, it doesn't concern me at all and mostly doesn't offend me. And yes, I swear - but rarely.

But in the house, we really want our kids to learn to use the right ways of expressing anger or frustration and we absolutely won't tolerate them swearing at each other. It upsets me - I think because it feels and sounds very aggressive. I hope we're not fighting a losing battle but I'm not going to back down from this one.

Mr 9 has come home from various social events over the past year and innocently told me of some of the choice phrases and expressions he has heard. He has been shocked about the way some older children talk to each other and said he thought it sounded "mean and horrible".(By the way, he is no angel.)

I'd love to hear your views and rules on swearing. Our non-negotiable limits for the children (that are not always observed) include:

  • never swear at another person, ever, and especially not at your brother.
  • some swear words are never acceptable, in any context.
  • if they ever swear at me or my husband, the consequences would be memorable.

Just as an aside - as swearing is so much part of teenage culture now, I think it is important not to over-react to it but remain clear about the limits and have defined consequences. Michael Grose, author of a number of parenting books including the newest Thriving! Raising Exceptional Kids with Confidence, Character and Resilience wrote this Tip Sheet on swearing that I think is a good reference: Swearing: Good Language is About Respect in Action.

I do think this is about respect, some self control and learning to express anger and frustration in socially acceptable ways. It's not about total censorship but something I'd love the kids to learn before they are adults. And you, how do you manage this in your family? Am I out of touch?

image Ian Kahn

Comments (3)

swearing.... the guilty party

I totally agree and there are some great tips here, but I have found it terribly difficult to cut out my own swearing in front of the kids.
What I have found extraordinary in their behaviour is the capacity to understand context and when these words shouldn't be used. Despite having heard just about everything under the sun (in both Spanish and English), the are very quick to tell me when I have said the wrong thing, and rarely use the words themselves.
When I do let one (or several) slip however, I appologise to them, and admit that it was the wrong thing to say - but would love them to teach me how to stop doing it altogether...


I have a lovely story from our wonderful preschool director. Some kids were using swear words in her classroom. She overheard and asked them to stop using the "S" word. They looked worried and made the obvious assumption - but no, she lectured them on how "stupid" was not a word allowed in her house or her preschool.
I agree swearing is all about context. Even though I am a swearer my kids so far are not. I get more upset with how swearing is directed than the actual words - although I haven't moved into teenage land yet where I am sure it will become alot more in my face.
It is an ongoing discussion and good to think about. I think your approach is very balanced - not an over-reaction and your kids are really clear about where you stand and why.


Haha - Yvette I love 'the consequences would be memorable'... am so going to use that...

on the swearing - think I am firmly in your camp - when my kids were in primary school (teen girls now...bless me) they would come home and say, shocked and horrified, that some kid in their class used the 'S word'. Tellingly, in our home that was 'Shut up' - don't get me started on how much I hate that phrase.

I agree, no denying it is out there - sometimes I physically wince reading comments my daughter's friends are willing to post online. F(*& has evidently become verb, noun, adverb and adjective sometime in the last few decades.

In our home, it is definitely about respect and falls in the not in our home bucket. Also, I like to tell the girls that swearing is often a case of being lazy or less than creative with the volume of vocabulary on hand - we often have a bit of fun coming up with alternative phrases.

Like you, I'm not particularly offended by the occasional swearing. I just think it shows a lack of imagination when used constantly...

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