Should Children be Allowed to Swear

Should Children be Allowed to Swear?

26 August 2023
Posted by: Chelsea

This deceptively simple question can cause surprising difficulties for families.

It may be tricky to find an all-embracing definition and solution.

What is swearing?

The first and perhaps most obvious question for parents is to try and decide what is acceptable and unacceptable language for their child to use. There is no obvious social yardstick for this and each family or individual member of a family may have their personal views on that question.

The idea of swearing has very probably been with humanity since our beginnings, though we have little evidence for that. It is known that the ancient Romans swore using an extensive Latin vocabulary of offensive words – some of which surprisingly are still with us today in part.

The use of bad language though is highly subjective. A deeply offensive word to one person may mean little or nothing to another, who might regard it as ordinary language.

Then there are the variables that might decide whether the use of a word is acceptable or not depending upon:

  • the location – some people might not swear in a church but would do so outside;
  • the company – some people may use harsher language when with friends and family, as opposed to with strangers or in formal settings;
  • the sexes – some men and women might swear when in single-sex surroundings but not if members of the other sex were present;
  • age – some may choose to moderate their language if older people are present due to potential sensitivities etc.

All things considered, this area is very complicated for even adults to understand and codify. It’s little wonder therefore that children can become very easily confused by all these conventions and rules.

What to do with younger children?

One thing most child development experts, parents and schools agree on, is that for a young child to regularly use words regarded by many as obscenities isn’t desirable.

Not only may it offend others but it also might inhibit the development of a broader, more subtle and richer vocabulary.

Unfortunately, nobody can stop their children from hearing swear words. Children being highly imitative and eager to experiment with new things will be inclined to try out their new words at every opportunity.

In the 3-6 age range, most children probably won’t understand the real meaning of such words, even if they’ve managed to use them correctly. One also can’t assume that children at this age necessarily swear to express anger or frustration. They may simply be experimenting with language.

By the 7-10 age range though, most children will be using bad language with rather more sincere intent and feeling. They’ll usually understand what it means and will be looking to have an impact when they use it.

For that reason, it’s important to try and ensure that your values relating to bad language and swearing are communicated to children from the youngest ages onwards.

Family values and communications

It’s a good idea for older people in the family to agree amongst themselves on what the standards are for acceptable language as it is used by the youngest child. A child who sees some family members regularly swearing while getting reprimanded by others for doing so themselves, may become very confused.

Once there is a common agreement, you can:

  • speak to the child gently in cases where they have used a word you don’t approve of;
  • explain to them what the word means and that they should not use it;
  • tell them that the word upsets you. Most children are naturally eager to avoid hurting their parents’ feelings;
  • if your child is old enough, you can explain to them in advance several swear words and explain why their use is bad. They will hear them anyway and this approach will at least ensure that you will make such words less mysterious and attractive.

Remember though to be fairly fatalistic and to avoid angry reactions if your child swears. They will have friends that swear regularly and it may take them time to adjust to and learn the various conventions that influence our use of different forms of language in different situations.

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