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That's What She Said, I Swear!

Posted by Jen on May 27, 2009 at 10:00 AM in Jen
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buttery goodness

Here's a confession: When I was in fourth grade, crushed under the weight of my school-wide reputation as being a straight A student and all around goody-goody, I learned how to swear. I was careful to keep my potty mouth to myself and a close circle of friends, in order to keep me under the parent/teacher radar and ensure all the perks of being a "good kid." But the thrill of saying bad words in the company of friends fed me with a love of scandal and outrageous behavior that I still secretly (or maybe not so secretly?) harbor. I never got caught and nothing bad happened, but there were always stories of those who weren't as lucky as I was--the girls who got their mouths washed out with soap. The boys who had to stand in corners for hours. And the very unfortunate few who withstood the torture of hot pepper and other hopefully now outlandish forms of behavior modification. It was a dangerous enterprise, I kid you not.

Now I have my own fourth grader who recently got caught on the front porch using less than PBS sponsored language in conversation with her younger brother. I wasn't there to witness, but Dave was. What to do? Make a big deal? Mandate silence? Give a lecture? Neither one of us had much of an answer.

Madeleine, however, had a very finally crafted policy on swearing that she is quite happy to share. "Here's how it works," she told us. "Grown-ups can swear in front of grown-ups, and kids can swear in front of kids, but neither one can swear in front of each other."

That's what she said, I swear.

I know what you're thinking. Ouch. And the more noble-spoken among you, Do we really need any swearing at all? Seriously? I plead the fifth on that one, but I'd like to know what you think. Swearing? No swearing? Consequences? No consequences? You can slice this one any which way and I'm not sure I have the answer.


I tend to agree with Madeline. Ha.

Seriously. We *have* been careful about language around the house - which is HARD considering my potty mouth. But when words have slipped, and Declan has heard or said words that we think are not appropriate, we discuss how those words are perceived. Although my friend Amy always says she doesn't like to give too much weight to words, and I agree with that too. We end up more in the middle ground where we explain what others will feel if they hear him saying whatever word du jour that is socially taboo, what the consequences will be, and go on from there.

Tess writes...

I think Madeleine is right on the money!

On adults swearing among themselves, I prefer to hear a bit of robust Anglo-Saxon occasionally rather than those substitute words like "Oh shoot", which seem a bit contrived. It's when vocabulary consists of nothing else that it's a problem.

But I agree with Madeleine, I don't like to hear adults swearing in front of kids.

Patience writes...

Lucy might have repeated a four letter word this morning when I dropped the toll money...but they have yet to figure out how to swear's coming I know. Jorge gives me the judgey-judy eyes ALL the time.

Jenny writes...

My seven year old "swore to God" last night that she hadn't eaten any Memorial Day parade candy, and I came down on her pretty hard. I really dislike kids swearing and grownups too, but I used to have a terrible potty mouth myself, so I can't judge people -- but I will give hell to teenagers I hear swearing around kids. No need for them to learn those words too early.

I do think Madeleine's solution is elegant and appropriate, BTW.

Amber writes...

I have totally the same experience as you. When I was in grade 4 (or 5? close enough) I started swearing to combat my goody-two-shoes reputation. But I also kept it under my hat. To this day I don't swear much.

Which is why my husband thinks it's hilarious that my 4-year-old has learned her questionable language from me. I use pretty PG expletives, but you still don't really want your toddler yelling them in the grocery store.

As for what to do, I agree with Madeleine. As long as she's not letting loose with the foul language inappropriately, it's probably par for the the course.

Laura writes...

oh jen - hold on to this girl. she is brillant...

Deb writes...

Oh Jen, I just love your Maddy...she is always so wise. I feel like I do it, so how can I expect my kids NOT to? I try to minimize it around the littler kids, but my teens use it when appropriate. I think that each individual gets to decide, but I certainly agree that insane behavior mod stuff DIDN't/doesn't work! I really believe in our connection to our kids is what creates mutual respect. Then you can agree together on boundaries and problem solve ways to support each other.

Jess writes...

Well done, Madeline!

I am of the opinion that yes, we do need swearing, to some extent. Sometimes you just need a STRONG word to fully express how you're feeling. We've been talking about some of those words with my 6 y/o son, who picked up on my saying "pissed off" recently and has been feeling out how to use that phrase for himself. We talked about how words can be very powerful, and that it's important to understand how other people feel about them (like, for example, his kindergarten teacher), and to choose very carefully when to use them.

Kristen writes...

I remain silent on this matter.

Betsy writes...

Ian's only 3, and I already have some ridiculous stories about his choice words. (And yes, he learned every one from me.)

We try not to freak out, and not to focus on specific words being "bad" - that always seemed kind of arbitrary to me - but on what he's trying to express, and the feelings of the people who might hear him. "Some words really hurt people's feelings, so we choose other words."

Steve writes...

I agree with Maddy in principle. Young children learn from their environment. Hopefully an envrionment, in which they can see discriminate usage and decide what is appropriate for themselves as they move through life. An environment of habitual swearing makes that personal path of discrimination crystal clear for some and very cloudy for others.

Cheryl writes...

My father told me I could swear as long as it wasn't in front of my mother because she is a lady. We don't swear in front of ladies, he said.

I guess he wasn't trying to raise a lady.

I like to tell my nephews, who are learning all about language, that you can't swear unless you're registered to vote. You have to be registered to swear.

Sky writes...

I'm no angel in the clean mouth department. That said, we've decided that once you pay bills you can speak however you wish. It came to that because when I asked Johnny (my 9 year old) to set up the Cherry Blossom Market, he looked at me and said, "What the hell is a Cherry Blossom Market".


Beanie writes...

The kids got a point....and a future in sales. Have her send me her resume in twenty years.


Manic Mommy writes...

A few years ago, my husband and BIL (both well into their 30s) were using a few choice words in front of my MIL. Her comment? What small vocabularies you must have! Her point was beautifully taken.

Jess writes...

Oy vey...this is a HUGE problem in my house...with my 3 year old. He remembers all the bad words that he hears us say and tends to use them "appropriately" in sentences. I do find myself substituting words/phrases for less than appropriate words/phrases. Maybe that would be okay???

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