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Let My Kids Swear?

It's a lost cause, my friends claim.

"Face it," says one, "swearing is part of the vernacular now, and every kid knows it."

Of course, my kids know it, too (although not as well as they believe they do). I like a good oath on occasion, and having come of age in a newsroom, I could teach them a thing about energetic cussing.

But I don't, just as I don't allow my oldest teen to have a beer around the house to teach him "responsible drinking," as if drinking were an act that required a training bra. I don't think there's such a thing as responsible drinking for a kid, and I don't think there's any such thing as acceptable swearing.

There's a moat around my house, and all the swearwords must be thrown into it before a child crosses the drawbridge. It's like checking your spurs at the door in the old West. I don't want the finish ruined.

And it's not a lost cause, though it is a hard uphill climb, and mined with compromise, contradiction, and controversy.

Take "damn." English major that I am, I don't consider it altogether a swearword. It has legitimate uses, as in describing acts of war that damn their perpetrators' souls. I also wouldn't punish a child of mine who dropped a shovel on his toe (this has happened) and, as a reflex, said, "Damn." Nor do I consider "hell" a swearword, unless it is preceded by directions. And I sometimes beg the question with expressions such as "Shiitake mushrooms!"

But the others, the F-word and its ilk, seem like they're usually used when swearing is intended for show-off purposes, for lack of linguistic creativity, or to mime a phony sophistication in a crude way. In the mouths of children, foul words cause cavities of the spirit. I don't use those words toward my children. And they don't use them around me, except for the almost-grown one, who can still cuss himself out of the car keys but can't see that when he does, he sounds not cool but like he's got a thief in his mouth who's swallowed his brain. The younger ones? I don't wash their mouths out with soap.

I make them do it themselves.

Bite off a corner and chew until foamy. Harms nothing. Good for the digestion. And memorable. When I swear, I put a quarter in the charity bottle. The charity bottle is about half filled.

Why swearing, when I could fight more important, more dangerous battles on so many other fronts?

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