Potty (Mouth) Training Revisited

I watched with interest all the hoopla last week about the little girl on the ABC-TV show “Modern Family”, who was depicted as cursing on last week’s episode (or is it “cussing”?).  See, “using swear words” had already been a “hot topic” around our house this month.  In the wake of the episode, which was entitled “Little Bo Bleep”, I found lots of online psycho-babble by professors and other experts chiming in about how swearing is, among other things, a natural part of early language development, cathartic, and helps people tolerate pain.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, I think most people already know that.  And we also know something else the experts were saying, that, just like in the Modern Family episode, little kids use swear words without really knowing what they mean, and get a kick out of adults’ reactions when they use them, and so they’ll say them again.  “Modern Family” was just art imitating real life.  (Does that mean the Parents Television Council, the group who first caused a stink about the show, is not made up of real parents? Sometimes I wonder…) But what I really wanted to know amidst last week’s jaw flapping was how real parents deal with swearing by children and teens.  

When we first heard four-letter-words spoken in the teen years by our oldest, our stance was to ignore them, just like we’d ignore insults, to lessen their “power”, hopefully communicating the message that “if you’re trying to get a reaction out of us, it’s not gonna happen”, which would hopefuly lessen their occurance.  Some “experts”, like the parenting coach at The Huffington Post, would agree.  Well, this stance worked okay— there wasn’t a lot of cussing… but it was still happening.   (I think, whether they get a reaction out of adults or not, teens feel “grown up” when they cuss, especially in front of adults, and that’s a reward in itself!) One day Emmie came to Andy and I and said, “I don’t want to live in a house where there’s cussing, it’s not fair that Allison doesn’t get in trouble, and you know I’d get in trouble if I did the same thing!!” And we said, “You’re right,” because she was.  (Besides, I suddenly pictured two kids swearing in my house instead of one, and it wasn’t pretty.)  And so we changed our stance. A few weeks ago, we told the girls we weren’t allowing cussing in the house anymore, and that if they decided they couldn’t communicate nicely with words, then we’d take away their other main form of communication– their phone.  “F that!!!” said Allison. Au revoir, said her phone.

“But they’re just words! What’s the big deal?” she said.  We explained that every place, every group of people has their own rules, and that in this house, we’ve decided we don’t want to hear cussing anymore. “I don’t think your school wants to hear it in the classroom,” I said, “and I don’t think your church youth group allows it, either!”  More cussing followed, but I think she’s finally gotten the message, now that her phone has been gone over two weeks.

Are we being ridiculous? Is this a battle most other parents choose not to fight?  I checked on CafeMom.com, a great gathering site for moms of all ages and stages, to see if there was any current buzz about swearing.  There were a lot of posts and comment threads about the topic– one in particular among “Moms of Teens” had about 40 different parent replies, and it looked like the majority of those parents don’t allow swearing, especially when it’s directed at someone. 

While I don’t believe we need to tell kids that all swearing is wrong, we can teach them that not everyone wants to hear it, even some of their own peers, and that unless you know someone’s boundaries on the subject, it’s best to keep your four-letter favorites private.  (I’ve known of people who have lost jobs because they thought that swearing during a business meeting would make them appear “tough”!)  Kids might also be encouraged to come up with different words or phrases that can help them “let it all out” without crossing the line.  (I’m sure my kids get sick of hearing me say, “Oy vey!”)  I’ll never forget the time, while I was growing up, when a neighborhood friend told me that she’d come up with a way to “cuss without cussing”.  “You just pronounce the words differently!” she announced proudly.  “So now I can say ‘FEWK’ when I’m mad and I won’t get in trouble!!”

Whatever works, I thought…but somehow, it just didn’t seem very cathartic…

2 thoughts on “Potty (Mouth) Training Revisited”

  1. Loved the post! I accidentally said the S-word in front of Evan last week and he repeated it. Immediately. Of course we laughed and then he kept saying it over and over, with a huge grin. And in between he would throw in a, “Mama said..” Yeah, I need to watch myself. πŸ˜‰

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