The Impact of Swearing on Children: Tips for Parents

Categories: General Parenting

Swearing these days is a lot less taboo than it was a couple of decades ago. Most adult TV shows and movies use explicit language freely, as do comedians and some social commentators.

Even popular music frequently features swearing, and while there are “radio edits”, if you kids stream music on a service like Spotify or Apple Music, they will come across the song the way the artist intended it, complete with expletives.

So, with all these swear words being used in the public sphere, it isn’t surprising our children are exposed to it. And that’s not to mention any exposure they get in the community or at home.

Most children aren’t strangers to “naughty words”. And, they are pretty good at understanding what is considered “bad” language. For example, if my 5-year-old overhears me dropping the f-bomb, I am suitably chastised.

However, as children start to hit their preteens and are doing their fair share of boundary testing, they tend to start slipping out a few swears themselves.

You might be surprised by the results of a study which found that a mother’s language has the highest correlational influence on a child’s tendency to swear. Equally unsurprising is the finding that peers also have significant influence. It’s estimated most children will have picked up 30-40 offensive words by the time they start school. I’m not sure I even know that many?!

So, is it bad for kids to swear? 

Interestingly, research shows that swearing is not harmful or correlated with violence, as many would assume.  It’s also been found that swearing can increase pain tolerance (we’ve all sworn over a stubbed toe or other injuries) and be quite cathartic. In fact, some experts believe swearing can help teach children better social and communication skills, as well as anger management.

Out of all the research, it seems the most important thing with swearing is teaching our children about context and social etiquette.

While you might not be about to start encouraging your children to swear, rather than trying to ban it altogether, try approaching the matter by teaching them the following:

1. There’s a time and a place

Kids need to learn that while they might swear amongst their friends, there are places that bad language isn’t deemed socially appropriate for kids and won’t be tolerated. For example, at school, around their grandparents, in public places etc.

2. Don’t swear at someone

Swearing at someone as an insult is highly offensive. We don’t want children to think it’s ok to threaten, insult or abuse someone using any sort of language, swearing or otherwise.

3. Some swear words are considered more offensive than others

This has changed over time and there are words used commonly today that would have been deemed highly offensive in the past. However, even to the most prolific swearer, there are still words that they often won’t use or tolerate.

Overall, I don’t believe sheltering or stopping our children from using swear words is the answer and it’s interesting to see that the research supports my view.

Teaching kids how to effectively and appropriately express themselves is a far better strategy in the long run.

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