Should children be allowed to swear?
- The Cambridge Dictionary defines swearing as “rude or offensive language that someone uses, especially when they are angry.”
- According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word f*ck “did not appear in any English language dictionary from 1795 to 1965. The Penguin Dictionary finally made a bold move to include it in 1966, and from there, it was added into other dictionaries.”
- Psychology professor Timothy Jay’s research in 2010 revealed that kids are learning to swear earlier than in previous decades--as early as between ages three and four. However, he also noted that adults using profanity has also increased proportionately.
- A 2013 study found that by age eight, kids know 54 “taboo” words such as “stupid” and “god.”
Face it. Swearing functions as a coping mechanism—a harmless, energetic release across a broad palette of emotional responses. Children learn deeply and early in life, from the adult behavior around them, that swearing is a habitual pattern or a polarized reaction to moments of elevated emotion.
Most people have at the ready a few favorite curse words that they are quick to use because swearing has so many positive benefits. It relieves pain, re-establishes a sense of situational control, provides social bonding, increases circulation, and releases endorphins. And given the benefits, the need to be overly concerned about the inevitable adoption of swearing by children is misplaced.
Since swearing is connected to strong emotion, physical arousal, and potentially taboo behavior, the miniature mimics in the house will echo the attitudes and actions around verbal outbursts. And they will need to be taught about these expressions of intense emotion.
The good news is that children can learn to distinguish between when behavior is appropriate in one context and inappropriate in another. The key to that distinction comes from knowing the meaning of words and their contextual usage. Therefore, parents should be the ones to explain that the same offensive language that should not be used to hurt others' feelings might be permissible when one accidentally smashes their thumb with a hammer. A child's friends on the playground are not suitable teachers of that difference, too often favoring the former over the latter.
Inappropriate behavior provides teachable moments. Children have swear words in their vocabulary, and they will experiment with them. Parents should take those lemons and make some !@#$%^& lemonade.
Children should not be allowed to swear because they lack the control that using swear words requires. Sometimes, school-aged kids aren't even aware that they are swearing, let alone able to regulate their speech. And this can cause disruptions in the classroom, impeding learning and distracting other kids.
Furthermore, as psychology professor Timothy Jay points out, when kids swear at school, they could be doing it only to impress their friends or get extra attention. There are certainly better ways of doing both of those things that don't involve offensive language. And because many kids mimic swear words that they hear—most often at home—without knowing their true meaning, they use the words inappropriately.
Swear words are often used to express negative emotions, and it's helpful for parents to guide their children in understanding those negative feelings, rather than allowing them to rely on vocal outbursts. According to psychotherapist Amy Morin, children who understand their emotions are less prone to aggression, tantrums, and reluctance to express their feelings. Using basic words such as 'happy' and 'sad' can be much more efficient than swear words—and with lasting psychological benefits.
Additionally, it's very useful for kids to use appropriate language in setting boundaries with other kids. According to the Child Mind Institute, setting boundaries with bullies using healthy emotional language can help a child stand up for themselves without creating more tension.
Finally, one of the best reasons to prevent children from swearing is that if they learn to curb this habit early on, it will save them from the possible frustration of being embarrassed or disciplined in a professional situation later on in their adult lives.