Not long ago, my wife and I received the dreaded report – our six-year-old son was caught saying the “F word” at school. Oh the shame! Have we failed as parents? Are we raising a foul-mouthed heathen?
No. Of course not. In fact, we’re both fairly controlled with our language around the kids (just by nature, not trying hard to censor ourselves). We were raised, like many kids, being taught there are good words and there are bad words; that there are words that only grown ups are allowed to use. And if we were caught using a bad word, we would get to suck on a bar of soap or get a spanking. But, now as a parent myself, I’m forced to consider the severity of the crime. How seriously should I take the offense of uttering the unholiest of unholy words?
I certainly didn’t want to tell him, “no big deal.” This isn’t South Park, so being the cursing kid at school wasn’t exactly the reputation I wanted to encourage. At the same time, I know kids of all ages are aware of bad words and it’s exciting for them to say them amongst friends. I was the same way as a child. But, if I allowed this behavior, and didn’t drop the hammer, would I be doomed to raise a vulgar, rude and callous child? There is a stereotype that people that curse more regularly are less civilized or intelligent (they can’t think of anything better to say). I’m sure that’s true in some cases, but there’s also research to suggest it’s quite the opposite: “A voluminous taboo lexicon may better be considered an indicator of healthy verbal abilities rather than a cover for their deficiencies,” researchers wrote. So, there’s got to be some balance to achieve here.
But let’s step back even further – how and why do we even classify some words as good or bad? Of course, there’s the classic 7 words that comedian George Carlin made famous. But every household has their own set of taboo terms, as well – in our house, it’s words like ‘idiot,’ ‘shut up,’ and ‘hate.’ While I didn’t want my son to say, “f@#%” at school to his buddies, the emphasis on bad words has always been about how they are used. I would have been more concerned had my son used “bad words” to intentionally hurt somebody; in an effort to abuse and degrade another person.
When it was all said and done, there was no beating or soap sucking. I calmly talked to my son about what he said and why he said it, and he was very honest with me. He knew it was a “bad word,” which I suspected he did. We talked for a while about bad words, making sure not to say them at school and making sure we’re not trying to be mean to people or hurt their feelings with those words. That’s what makes a word bad – its aim and intention. He understood and has complied wonderfully. That makes me damn proud.