Is It OK to Swear Around your Kids?

  • Parents Only

By: Zoe Crane, ellaslist

Most parents swear occasionally in front of their kids. It just slips out now and then, and it’s also pretty normal to feel a twang of guilt when your three-year-old pipes up “mum, why did you say bugger?” But is it really so bad to swear around your kids?

Do Kids Pick Up Swearwords from their Parents?

The bad news is yes, they do. Kids are most likely to pick up swearwords from those they are closest to, parents and friends, rather than the media. However, a study for the Association for Psychological Science by Kristin Janschewitz and Timothy Jay found that “swearing emerges by age two and becomes adult-like by ages 11 or 12. By the time children enter school, they have a working vocabulary of 30-40 offensive words.” However they also found that “all competent English speakers learn how to swear in English.” So basically whether you swear in front of your kids or not, they will learn and most likely use swearwords, but how and how often is likely to be influenced by parents’ usage.

Is It Really So Bad?

There is no doubt that swearing is more common now than it was in the past. It is up to individual parents to decide on what rules they set up around swearing for their families, but many believe that teaching children about swearing, rather than banning it altogether is the best approach. But this doesn’t mean we should just let kids swear whenever they like. “The important thing is that children understand the context for their behaviour,” writes Amy Conley Wright for The Conversation, saying “Children need to be taught, through modelling appropriate behaviours, how to behave in various social situations and different contexts.” WA parenting coach Claire Eaton told Kidspot “Kids will experiment with swearing for a variety of reasons — to fit in with friends, push boundaries, express their feelings or explore their language,” saying kids need exposure to certain behaviours and temptation to learn to self-regulate. She stressed that kids need to be taught that swearing is not appropriate in many situations “particularly if it hurts others, puts people down or is rude.”

Could It Even be Good?

Psychology professor Timothy Jay says not all swearing is bad and goes so far as to describe the practice as an “evolutionary leap” that allows humans to be verbally aggressive instead of physically. “Swear words can achieve a number of outcomes, as when used positively for joking or storytelling, stress management, fitting in with the crowd, or as a substitute for physical aggression,” he writes. Jill Pond, author and mum of two girls, goes so far as to argue the case for swearing in front of kids in her controversial post My Kids Don’t Mind My F-Bombs, And Neither Should You where she points out that she is just as loved by her girls, and doesn’t give an F-bomb what other people think. She’s taught her daughters that some words are adult words (not bad words) and says neither of her daughters swear, but “when they grow up, they can use them accordingly.”

What To Do If Your Kids Swear Too Much

When young kids first hear swear words, their use is often reinforced by other people’s reaction. When they see other kids laughing, or adults being shocked or angry they associate the word with the strong reaction it evokes. The best method to eliminate this is called extinction, where you ignore the behaviour you want to discourage. To do this you might ignore a sentence where your child uses a swear word, but pay close attention the rest of the time, so they realise it is the behaviour being ignored and not them. While this is an effective method for younger kids, it is unlikely to have the same results in a teenager. One mum who found her teenager’s swearing was escalating came up with a unique method to curb the cursing. One night she introduced a new rule at dinner- every sentence had to contain the F word. Night after night it continued and the power of the word started to fall away.

ellaslist wants to hear from you, do you swear in front of your kids?