Cursing in front of kids shouldn’t be verboten
By Natalie Serafini, Opinions Editor
When I first met my nephew, there were a lot of things I worried about. I worried that I would drop the precious bundle, because I had no idea how to hold a baby. I worried that I was secreting a pheromone, popularly known as “Inexplicably Prompts Babies to Cry Unconsolably.” More than these entirely rational concerns, though, I was especially worried that I would slip-up and drop an F-bomb in front of my infant nephew.
So I confess, I worry about swearing in front of kids. Yet, I can’t think of a reason why the cleanliness of my speech should be so much of a concern in the presence of children. What are we trying to protect? Perhaps because of the innocence, which children are an abundant fountain of. It would explain Santa Claus, and the universal understanding that nothing may pierce, stab, or crush the delicate exoskeleton of that dream.
Let’s assume it’s innocence that we’re preserving when we swap in “fudge” and “sherbet”; hearing swear words doesn’t tear the child out of childhood and set them on the path towards a hard knock life. Kids aren’t born with an innate understanding of what those words mean, so uttering a few choice syllables isn’t going to open a veritable Pandora’s box of hardship, and it likely won’t give them a bad case of Tourette Syndrome. It’s difficult to see how the utterance of a few words would mar a child’s innocence, so I’m hesitant to give that explanation full credibility.
Instead, perhaps the concern is in ensuring that the child’s vocabulary is suitably broad. It wouldn’t be good if the child were to use swear words to describe everything, or peppered every sentence with curses. But when a child learns a new word, do they apply it to every single situation and sentence? I’m sure some kids do, but it’s not guaranteed that an obscenity will become their new favourite word—especially if parents calm down and stop worrying about their kids getting overly attached to a swear word. Kids frequently only become fascinated by things that carry mystique, or are taboo. If one doesn’t assign impropriety and illicitness to the words, the child will likely forget that they even heard it. They’re gems like that.
And if the concern is with expanding the child’s vocabulary, the easy solution to that is to expand your own vocabulary, and not swear in every sentence. That doesn’t mean never swearing—sometimes “fudge” or “sherbet” don’t quite address the enormity of a situation—but choosing to be strategic and effective.
There are certain things kids should be protected from. Polio, murderers, drugs/alcohol/cigarettes: life- and quality of life-threatening forces that go under the parenting guidelines as “to avoid.” Language is not one of the things kids should be protected from. Language is powerful, and rather than ignoring the existence of words, maybe it’s better to teach kids to understand their significance. There will be a few rogue rascals walking around the grocery store shouting their favourite new curses, but generally speaking, the kids won’t care about their new-found knowledge. Parents should be teaching their kids to have an arsenal of words at their disposal, even if that means emphasizing the sparse use of some words.