Why I’m Totally Open to Discussing ‘Swear Words’ With My Child
Don’t ban. Instead, make children understand how swear words can be derogatory to certain people (and genders).
On a busy Monday morning, already running late for ‘school drop off’, I came across a big trench dug in the middle of the road; with a board beside it announcing “BBMP Work in progress. Take Diversion.” Navigating the narrow ‘diversion’ lane, trying to avoid the back wheel of my car slipping into the trench, I came face to face with a man on a bike, coming from the opposite direction, on a one-way lane!
“Bloody bugger!” I exclaimed. Next to me, in the passenger seat, my middle-schooler squirmed in his seat. I apologised to my son; and concentrated on the task at hand.
Eventually, my jaw clenched, I somehow managed to get out of that narrow lane, missing the biker and the ditch by an inch; and reached the school with only minutes to spare!
I should’ve been happy. We’d reached school before the main gate had shut. Instead, I spent the day thinking about the colourful expression I had used in front of my little one.
This wasn’t the first time, of course. I am a zealous driver and many such colourful words escape me when I’m driving. But I generally don’t say them out loud – I mutter them to myself. I know it isn’t right to swear in front of my child.
Deeming Things ‘Taboo’ For Our Children
But then again, is it that bad to swear in front of my child, really? I mean, what is the point in keeping him protected from such language, when he is going to come across it sooner, or later anyway?
Thing is, a lot of us parents impose strict restrictions on things we deem ‘inappropriate’ to say or do in the presence of our children, making them ‘taboo.’ We decide on words that are ‘not allowed’ to be said out loud. We decide on things that we ‘frown upon.’ And these become family rules, clearly designed to let our children know that these words are ‘bad,’ and that they should never be used in public.
But in doing so, we underestimate the lure of the ‘forbidden fruit.’ We also forget that our children have a lot more exposure and access to the internet these days. And in some of their circles, it is considered a ‘cool’ thing to hurl abuses unflinchingly – it gets them instant approval from their more adventurous peers.
So the very children that we so try to protect from these ‘bad’ words, are exposed to them sooner, rather than later. And then one day, when they lose their cool and use them in our presence, we are shocked! We attribute the cause of this to our own behaviour. After all, don’t children do what they see their parents do?
But we forget about a more obvious reason that could be at play here. That our children don’t know the meanings of the words they are saying!
So why not tackle that? Rather than letting children either use swear words without knowing their meanings, and thereby not knowing how they could be hurtful; or letting them figure out the meanings themselves or through their peers (not always the most reliable option), how about parents themselves open up a dialogue with children about swear words?
Facilitating Sex Education
“Making a taboo of anything is bad,” says Dr Tanu Shree Singh, Professor of Positive Psychology at Government College, Kheri Gujran, Faridabad; and author of the bestselling parenting book Keep Calm and Mommy On.
Tell the children what a certain word means and why you (parents) think it is inappropriate. Ask them what they think. Swear words are [just] a lazy person’s way of pulling someone down.
So maybe this open dialogue between parents and children could make a difference in the way children see swear words. Maybe, once they know the meanings, our children might not actually use them as openly, or view them as a way of showing 'coolness.'
Dr Ali Khwaja, Counsellor, Columnist and Life Skills Coach; and Chairman of Banjara Academy, Bangalore, agrees. In fact, he goes one step further – in suggesting that a clear and open dialogue between parents and children can also help in other important aspects, such as gender and sex education.
When words are no longer taboo between parents and child(ren), it can facilitate sex education too. Example – children are curious about the word ‘f*#k.’ Parents can explain what it means, and say that it is a derogatory way of expressing something beautiful and natural. Equally important is to help [children] understand, that no word should be used to hurt another person. [For example], although ‘fatty’ is not a ‘dirty’ word, it does hurt a person who is overweight.
Opening up a dialogue with our children is definitely an option worth exploring. Who knows what more topics this could open out into? Gender discrimination, caste inequality, even bullying – anything under the sun can be discussed with children.
Instead of just ‘banning’ the use of ‘bad words’, wouldn’t it be better to make children understand how swear words can be derogatory to certain people (and genders) – and show them the fallacy of swearing out loud?
(Rashmi runs a blog named Rashmi’s Space and a book blog called ‘FindMyRead’. She has also been published by Women’s Web, in their anthology “When Women Speak up”. You can tweet to her at @Rashmisspace)
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.