Parenting Traps

Talking trash

One mom fights foul language – with consequences for the whole family.

By Virginia A. Smith
May 23, 2010

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“Meg,” I say to my 7-year-old, “did you call Julia and Hannah ‘douche balls’?” Their mother had just telephoned, and she and I couldn’t help laughing at Meg’s choice of phrasing. But now, with Meg, I keep my serious face on.

Meg looks a little shifty. “I didn’t hear that word,” she says. “And if it came out of my mouth, I would have heard it.”

Irrefutable logic, but I’m not convinced. I strongly dislike off-color language tripping out of the mouths of my three children, especially my youngest, even if she didn’t get the epithet right and doesn’t have the slightest idea what it means.

Until they were 10 and 8, my oldest children were convinced that “the S word” was “shut up” and “the F word” was “fart.” That was one of my greatest parenting triumphs with these two – now 15 and 13. But things are different for my third. She learns bad words from her older siblings and their friends, their Facebook pages, TV, and YouTube. These words are everywhere. How can we parents hold the line?

“In this day and age, it’s essentially impossible to shield kids from swearwords,” says Dr. Claire McCarthy, assistant professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, herself a mother raising five children from preschool age to college. “Kids really don’t know which words aren’t OK to use unless you teach them, so parents need to identify words as ‘bad’ when they come up.

“Kids learn more from what we do than from what we say, so it’s crucial that parents watch their own language,” she adds. “I also think that parents need to be clear about their own family standards for language – teens shouldn’t be allowed to use language you don’t want younger kids to use.”

So I’ve instituted a new family rule: Saying a bad word will result in an hour’s work around the house. Two bad words, two hours of enforced cleaning. And so on. This includes the parental units, so I hereby vow to keep it clean the next time I accidentally hit my finger with a hammer.

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Do you censor the language used in your home? How?

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