Yesterday I stupidly bravely addressed the issue of profanity with Gracie, my nine-year-old, when a friend sent her an otherwise innocuous e-mail with the F-word in it.

I live in a glass house where profanity is concerned. Once, a few years back, I heard Gracie trying out the word “dammit,” evidently without any idea of what it meant:

Gracie: Dammit?

Gracie [with a smile reserved usually for Nutella]: Dammit!

Gracie [with the scholarly air of a mycologist correctly identifying a mushroom species]: Dammit.

After I freaked out calmly explained that she shouldn’t use that word, I asked her where she heard it. After much coaxing, she hung her head and pointed at me. At which point, I really did try not to laugh out loud.

Despite the odd slip here and there, I do my best to maintain a G-rated household. So after I saw the F-bomb e-mail I started rehearsing a phone call to the mother of the girl who sent it. I didn’t want to create a big drama; I just wanted to stem the flow of swear words into my kid’s inbox.

As I struggled to find the right tone, I suddenly had a flash of sanity: This isn’t the first or the last time Gracie will encounter profanity.

Despite my very sheltered Catholic upbringing, I learned every swear word in the book when I was eight. A fellow summer camper named Emily had an older brother with a passion for vulgarity. So if I was fluent in locker room talk at eight, Gracie must already know at least a few bad words.

It struck me that trying to block all sources of potty language is like playing Whac-A-Mole. A lot of questionable stuff pops up in all sorts of places. I can’t possibly censor all of it and I’m not sure I really want to. It’s a fine line—shelter her from what is truly harmful and beyond her capacity to handle yet expose her to enough of the world that she learns how to discern the good from the bad for herself.

So instead I talked to Gracie. I reiterated our house rules and reminded her that the English language provides us with many better choices than profanity. She wasn’t visibly impressed. The “dammit” incident may have hurt my credibility here. I continued.

I told her: There are negative consequences to using these words, beyond getting in trouble with me. Most mothers, hearing you use a curse word, would not allow you to play with their children anymore. This got more of a reaction.

Then I asked her what curse words she knew.

Gracie: The “f” word and the “h” word….and the “c” word.

Me [struggling to draw breath]: The “c” word??

Gracie [eyes downcast]: You know, “crap.”

It’s amazing how often parenthood requires you to stifle laughter.

I did my best to convey that she can always ask me about bad words without fear of punishment. I hope she knows I trust her and have faith in her judgment, because I actually do.

Also, I hope she thinks the “c” word is “crap” for the rest of her life.

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23 Responses to @#$%!

  1. WONDERFUL post~ from a fellow cusser 😉

  2. My goodness you do have a gift! I laughed again, very hard. I’m beginning to understand what people find lacking in my blog. Humor goes a long, long way and unfortunately good humor is in really short supply. Thanks for telling your funny stories so well.

    (And please don’t wonder if I think the funny stuff is all you can do well. I’m just new to your blog and loving what I’ve seen so far. 🙂 )

  3. I love it when my students tattle on someone who said the “S” word. When I ask them to whisper it to me, it’s inevitably “Shutup.” And BTW, I learned ALL of my cuss words at my Catholic school. My mom was so glad that her tuition money didn’t go down the drain.

  4. That’s great! My 3 y.o.’s new saying is “Not in front of the kids!” Which is what we say after one of us swears…whoops.

  5. bigsheepcommunications says:

    When my kids were little, the “s” word was “stupid.” These days, my 14 year old is disgusted by a kid in her class who can’t utter a sentence without the f word in it. I’ve told her that people who speak like that are demonstrating their very limited vocabulary and a serious lack creativity.

    • And the “h” word was until recently “hate.” 😦 There’s a great quote about profanity in Maya Angelou’s “A Song Flung Up to Heaven.”

      “People use profanity because they have limited vocabularies or because they are lazy or too frustrated to search for the words they want.”

  6. Muff says:

    Oh…hot topic in my house right now. I have 3 kids. 14 year old boy who is naive for his age. 12 year old boy who is old for his age. 8 year old sister who has never had an age-appropriate moment since she was brought home. I fear the poor thing is going to drive the big rigs with the mouth she can potentially derive from her thug-like older brothers.

    The curse words flow like water in this house now, and while we make every effort to contain it, it is now shifting into time/place discussions. Particularly with my 12 year old who is entirely fluent in all things profane. Sigh.

    We have gone down the “nobody will want to play with you” road. And the “your vocabulary is too limited” road. Both have been proven wrong as my 12 year old is the popular kid, and gets As in English.

    So far my youngest is still scared of these words. We get the occasional “what the hell?”, but otherwise she is in check. The boys we get “what the f…” Not to us mind you, but it is audible from bedrooms and the basement.

    Where did they learn these? Probably from me. I slip up a bit, and the “I’m an adult” excuse is really really lame. Just makes them want to grow up faster, but yet I have slipped on that slope far too frequently. Sigh.

    So now that their sexual vernacular has improved considerably, I face vulgarity that is sexual and profane. Far too often I try to remember what they are saying because it’s so damn funny I want to use it myself – not that I can tell them that of course – you know, me with the nick name Muff, which we know was given to me by fraternity brothers. Sigh. So, we are now at the stage where “he’s such a d@#k” or “what a d-bag” is nearly tame. Hence, our serious coach mode for time and place.

    So some guidance we have provided is…not at school unless in a locker room. Teachers won’t tolerate it in the classroom. Locker rooms and fields are entirely OK. Even for the coaches. (Coach drops the F bomb on a regular basis). Not in writing on places like Facebook. If they MUST curse on texts, please use the abbreviations (i.e., WTF?). Also, refrain from cursing in front of girls. It limits the opportunity to impress, and this is a big motivator right now with the boys. Never, ever in front of any adults that they know. You would think this to be common sense, but you would be wrong. Boys are, for the most part, pretty much stupid at these ages, and if they don’t have a good healthy fear of adults they know, that just can’t be good.

    So, there you go. The discussion is not about censorship, but about making choices. Just tell your girls that it is a bad choice to curse, so try to make better choices. At least in front of you!

  7. Wow, too funny…we even had the exact same title! Great minds, indeed! : ) This had me laughing out loud since it hit so close to home. The C word is crap and my F word is fart…that’s just great!! 9 years old does seem really early to use the F bomb though (even in email), but it seems I have a lot to learn. Who knows what they’ll be saying when my daughter is 9…I shudder to think. What a great post!

  8. My 5yo daughter dropped her first F-bomb at the playground this summer, and she didn’t even get it from me! Really! (Cursing is generally frowned upon in my line of work, so I save the sailor talk for girls’ night and/or well after the kids are asleep. And, you know, my blog.) Anyway, I bunch of bigger boys came up to her at the playground and said “Give me that swing, you little f@*ker!” Now, she had never heard that word (I promise!), but she did take great exception to being called “little”. Her response? “I’m not a little f@*ker, I’m a BIG f@*ker! So you better watch out!” We did have a conversation later about how we don’t use those words, but I was actually pretty proud of her for standing her ground 🙂

  9. zumpoems says:

    Great post! You handled this so well.

    I try to remind myself that these words have much less impact and “psychological charge” then they did a couple of generations ago. Compare poetry of the 1950s to poetry of 2011. Now any word is fair game. Maybe that’s a good thing as takes some of the impact away.

  10. Elyse says:

    Great post — the first of yours I’ve read.

    My now 20-year-old son’s first word was “SHIT,” used appropriately when he hit his head. And while he has used colorful language ever since, he’s had loads of friends and is as sweet and generous as I could ask for. So why the hell should I complain!

  11. Pingback: What’s In A Name « Lovely Random Thoughts

  12. I never used curse words as a young person. But I didn’t have the frustrations then as I do now. So I let them go public anytime I need to release some frustration. It’s better than going after someone with a crowbar!


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