Edgy Mama: Cussing kids

My angel-faced son was not quite 2 years old when the director of his church preschool called to tell me my boy had dropped a wooden block on his foot, then yelled, “S**t!”

While an understandable use of profanity given the situation, his outburst clearly wasn’t appropriate to the setting.

There was no question the boy was imitating Mommy, so I took full responsibility and told the preschool director that I’d work on curbing my vulgar tendencies. Luckily, the preschool director had a sense of humor and thought the incident was (kind of) funny.

When kids are learning language, experts say it’s best to ignore their occasional use of cuss words. Shoot, as an adult I’ve inadvertently said “not nice” words at the wrong time or place. If a kid thinks a word might have power, and an adult reacts (even with punishment), that kid probably will want to use that word again. For example, my girl pronounced the letter “t” as “f” as a toddler. She quickly learned how to make all the adults around her laugh by pointing at trucks and yelling, well … you know what.

I’m not sure how long my attempt to be less profane around my kids lasted. There are times when I find a huge release in using cuss words – as an expression of pain, surprise or frustration. But I don’t use profanity to humiliate or hurt. And I’m trying to teach my kids the same.

I tell them that name-calling’s never OK. Venting your frustration or anger on others with cuss words (or violence) is bad juju. Using cuss words at church or school or around your grandparents can get you into trouble, and it’s best to stay out of trouble (regardless of whether or not your grandparents cuss themselves).

Here’s what else I tell my kids: there are words you can say at home or when you’re by yourself that you can’t say elsewhere. And no matter what a butthead some other kid is being, you can’t call him that, whether he’s listening or not. If it gives you a naughty thrill to toss out some cuss words around your friends in a private setting where you’re not being mean about someone, go for it. That’s a fairly safe way to come by a thrill.

I’m trying to teach them that some words, for cultural reasons, are worse than others. My girl was told that the word “piss” as in “don’t piss off the elves” was inappropriate written language for school, even though her mom used those exact words in a Mountain Xpress headline. Schools and alternative newsweeklies are clearly two different worlds. The word “suck,” as in “that test sucked,” has also been deemed inappropriate by the language police. I think it’s become so common as slang that it’s lost most of its original punch. In fact, I’d wager most kids who use “suck” have no idea what it once meant.

I’ve also tried to introduce more appropriate pain-reaction words, like “dang,” although that’s a dull word. My challenge to myself and my kids is to come up with words that express frustration but that don’t have negative connotations. I tell my kids to use the dictionary. Don’t be lazy with language. The joy of words is in their variety. If you can’t drop the f-bomb, can you say frick, frack (thank you, Battlestar Galactica) or feck instead? Can you borrow from other cultures and use words like bollocks or crikey? Being creative with cuss words can be fun. Really.

That said, when you drop a block on your foot at school, it might be tough to repress those profane words that express so well how much it hurts. But let’s keep trying so we stay out of trouble with grandparents and sweet preschool directors.

P.S. Yes, last week’s column about my opening a brewery was an April Fool’s Day joke. I’m still writing, not brewing, though still quaffing beers.

Anne Fitten “Edgy Mama” Glenn writes about a number of subjects, including parenting, at www.edgymama.com.

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15 thoughts on “Edgy Mama: Cussing kids

  1. Musoscribe63

    Sadly, I have no life; that’s how.

    No, seriously, it’s in ‘print’ on the offical website at scifi.com. And don’t even get me started on the colossally stupid KFC tie-in ad campaign. (Doesn’t a “frak-pack” sound oh-so-tasty? Eww.)

    Back on topic, my kids grew up with tons of ‘naughty’ language (courtesy of me, not my ex), with varied results. One of my son’s favorite songs when he was a toddler was Ben Folds’ “Song for the Dumped,” which contains the immortal refrain, “give my my money back, you b*tch!” Ahh, good times, good times.

    My son (16) has never (‘least to my knowledge) uttered an expletive. My daughter (19) has always had a frakkin’ pottymouth like her Dad. Both are wonderful people.

    Frank Zappa often posited the argument that (paraphrasing here) words are tools, and one should use the most efficient tool for the job at hand. I recall him specifically making the argument when interviewed on a TV show called Livewire…a Nickelodeon talk show aimed squarely at kids.

  2. I should’ve checked the BSG site. Guess my editors didn’t think to check either.

    Do you think KFC knows what “frak” means? Frak-pack sounds pornographic.

    Zappa’s a strange dude, but I like his argument. Thanks, Muso.

  3. John

    You can never take your parent hat off when around the kids. Especially when they are young. For a 2 year old to use that word, they must have heard it quite a bit. When the kids are around you, you have to put your parent hat back on. Teach them lessons by warning them about things they hear others say, not what you say. They will say what you say as long as you keep saying it.

  4. Musoscribe63

    KFC (or more accurately, their current ad agency) is none too swift. When — a few days into the campaign — someone pointed out to them that the term ‘frak pack’ could be likened to, say ‘d*uche bag’ they changed the campaign to the “You-can’t-say-that-word-on-TV pack.” Which, if you think about it, doubles down on the stupid, because the whole frakkin’ point of creating the word was so that you COULD say it on TV.

    And FZ was a genius. My favorite quote of his (we think it’s his; not sure*) applies more to my milieu than yours: “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”

    * variously attibuted to FZ, Elvis Costello, William Burroughs. Nice boys all.

    Sorry to drift off yer topic.

  5. Not too off-topic, M.

    I might be fun to write a column called, “What would Zappa do…?”

    Then I’d really get what-for from some commenters.

  6. September Girl

    Skimming the article, I thought you were suggesting replacing the f-word with “battlestar galactica” which made me spit coffee through my nose. Rereading, I realized my mistake, but I think I’m going to exclaim “battlestar galactica!” in place of other expletives, at least for a day or two. I’ll let you know what happens.

  7. SG, sorry about the coffee through the nose. That can be painful. You might want to just yell, “BSG!” instead of “Battlestar Galactica.” Fewer syllables. I think I’ll do the same!

  8. elaneon

    Holy Battlestar Galactica! I really enjoyed this article. I agree the most important thing is to teach kids not to use language to hurt or humiliate others. In fact, if you could teach some adults that lesson, that would be good too! Thanks for making me think and grin today.

  9. elaneon

    Holy Battlestar Galactica! I really enjoyed this article. I agree the most important thing is to teach kids not to use language to hurt or humiliate others. In fact, if you could teach some adults that lesson, that would be good too! Thanks for making me think and grin today.

  10. restless

    My Dad used to say if you cuss, it means you have a limited vocabulary, ie- people will think you are stupid. Yet, my Dad cussed, though not often and only the milder, gentler cuss words. Guess the apple didn’t fall far from the stupid tree, since we my brothers and i all cussed (and still do). Forbidding cussing didn’t work with me and my brothers, so I have taken the same approach as you, EM, in dealing with it. Be careful how you use them and how often you use them, as sometimes they will emerge out of your mouth when you don’t want them too. I’m going to add your advice -that the words shouldn’t be used to hurt others- to my wheelhouse. “Crap” is also unacceptable at my boy’s school. That sucks. I mean stinks.

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