Almost across the board, parents choose not to let their children use curse words when they’re small. In many homes, that rule still applies until the child reaches adulthood, but not in all. Each family has different opinions about which words qualify as curse words, who in the home is allowed to use them, and what reasons are given for the rule.
When I first met my husband (we were 16 at the time), he came over to my parents’ house and uttered the words, “Damn it,” in front of them.
I stared at him in horror, knowing my parents would never approve of him after that. I was also frustrated with him for being so careless with his words, even though he knew nothing of our household expectations.
But when I spoke to him about it afterward, he seemed surprised. He said, “Oh. I’m sorry. That’s not a curse word in our house.”
Whaaaaat? How was that possible? Also, how had he not considered the fact that it might have been a curse word in someone else’s house?
As I’ve discovered, the answer is that every family is different and not every family explains the implications behind shared language.
Once my husband and I grew in adulthood and started having children of our own, we needed to have some tough conversations about which words we would allow in our home and which we wouldn’t.
We couldn’t seem to come to any agreements about which words were “bad,” which ones weren’t, and what age a kid should be allowed to say them. We completely disagreed about the parameters of cursing.
But then we asked ourselves the question that brought us both to the same page. That question was, “What’s our reasoning for caring about the words our children use?”
It really came down to these few things:
1) We didn’t want our children to struggle socially because they didn’t understand the general expectations of public behavior.
2) We didn’t want our children to struggle in relationships because they offended others with their words.
3) We wanted our children to understand that words only hold as much power as we allow them to, but that other people might place different amounts of power on certain words than we do.
4) Words do not make us good or bad, moral or immoral, intelligent or unintelligent, capable or incapable. However, words DO reveal what our motivations and priorities are, which means that we need to choose them intentionally.
5) The way that a word is used is much more significant than the word itself.
With all of those things in mind, we came up with our own “rules” about words in our home.
Our rule is this: No word is inherently bad, but not all words are appropriate for all situations, so we will choose our words carefully.
We enforce this rule by applying it to ourselves just as often as we do the kids. My kids heard me say, “Damn it,” a few months ago when my car malfunctioned while I was driving. I almost never use “curse” words in front of them, but when I do, it’s because I’ve become overwhelmed.
After that happened, I didn’t apologize for using the word “damn,” but I did apologize for losing control of my emotions and scaring them. It’s important to me that our kids know I’m not apologizing for the word itself, but for the REASON I chose to use it.
They’ve also heard me say “curse words” while talking with friends in a completely joking manner. I once said something like, “You’re such an ass,” to my sister after she’d teased me. We were both laughing, obviously unoffended, but my kids were there.
When they asked me about it afterward, I explained to them that I didn’t throw the word AT my sister, and I didn’t use the word because I’d lost control. I was joking with her, and the word made my joke more entertaining. Yes, I was doing it to “seek attention,” but it was in an environment where I was comfortable, and I knew the word wouldn’t make anyone uncomfortable. The environment and the tone of voice were both appropriate.
I reiterated again that words aren’t bad. The use of them can either be appropriate or inappropriate, based on a variety of circumstances, but they’re not bad.
If you disagree with me, that’s okay.
Let me put it in perspective of POSITIVE words being used inappropriately, and then maybe it will make sense. You don’t have to do as we do, but it might help you understand other parenting philosophies.
Bible verses are generally considered “good” and “kind” words, correct? I agree, but I don’t think they’re appropriate for every circumstance, and I don’t think that they should be said with every voice tone.
Someone once threw a Bible verse at me to make me feel small and guilty while making himself feel powerful, good, and intelligent. But the way he said it wasn’t appropriate for our conversation, it wasn’t helpful, and it wasn’t kind. It didn’t make me want to read the Bible at all, but instead drove me away.
Yet, others have shared Bible verses with me that have completely changed my life for the better. I love reading scriptural words because there ARE power in them, but I don’t like when they’re used inappropriately.
Words have far less power than actions and voice tone. It’s important to consider our motivations and audience when choosing our words.
After teaching our kids this for the past seven years, it has proven to be very effective. They’re analytical kids who think about the words coming out of their mouths, NOT because of arbitrary rules that society (or we) have imposed on them, but because we’ve taught them to be intentional with their speech.
They’re kids who will grow into teenagers who don’t sneak curse words into their friend hangouts because the words themselves have never been off-limits. They’re also kids who won’t be impressed by others who use “bad” words, but will instead watch that person’s behavior to decide what is impressive and what isn’t.
And most importantly, they’re kids who will NOT grow up making assumptions about other people based on their ability to communicate, but instead on their willingness to be kind, courageous, and fair.
A word is just a word.