Is is okay to let your kids swear?

A couple of days ago my daughter was working on an art project when she dropped a plate full of sand and glitter onto our rug. She froze for a minute and then looked at me and let out the most adorable and innocent “fuck”. My husband tries so hard not to react when she blurts out a swear word, but I can’t help but laugh. How could I ever be mad about the mess she made after that?

I honestly don’t intervene when my daughter swears. I know she gets it from me. I just think in the grand scheme of things it’s really not a big deal.

My dad really doesn’t like it. I laugh and he tells me it won’t be funny when she gets in trouble at school.

Do kids still get in trouble for swearing at school? I mean, maybe if it was every other word. But for an occasional exclamation? Schools around here do active shooter drills on a regular basis so I would think they would have bigger fish to fry.

I always assumed that keeping your language clean was a WASP thing. Is it different in other areas?

How do you feel? Is it a big deal if your kid swears?


  1. sonofrojblake says

    Re: WASP –

    Re: swearing – here’s what I’ve told my friends’ kids, and what I’ll be telling my kids: context is everything, and there’s a proven scientific reason to keep it to a minimum. Learning when not to is really important, and easier if you don’t do it much anyway. And if you do keep a lid on it, it works. As in, if you hit your thumb with a hammer, saying “fuck” reduces the pain… BUT it only works for people who don’t usually swear. Sounds crazy.

  2. mikey says

    Neighbor to the north, here, (Detroit)… I’m no prude, but when my kids were small, they would’ve got in trouble at school for cursing, scandalized the grandmas, etc, so in response to the inevitable “But YOU swear, Dad!” I explained:

    I also go to work every day, operate a car, vote, etc, because I am an adult. When you are 16, if you pass your cursing test, administered by me, to test your proficiency and situational awareness, you’ll be good to go.

    Obviously mostly a joke, but also conveying the idea that some personal control is needed.

  3. says

    How do you feel? Is it a big deal if your kid swears?

    Fuck, no. It’s just a way society has of enforcing class distinctions. It’s one of those “working class” things that people can look down on.

    I don’t think it’s particularly creative, though. In my world, invective is a bit of spice you can add to a comment, in order to get more attention for it, or to give it appropriate emphasis. So, sometimes I’ll go full pirate: “Arrrr, goat me fucks for a lubber, else!” or “forsooth, pigfucker” (a bit milder) There’s a particularly fine example in Swahili which I’ve probably got wrong but have been using since high school: “wo n’gi hudelwa yi hubulu!” which is “damn I have been shit upon by a raven.” I believe the Russians are considered the ongoing champions of cussing, but I knew an Oxfordian who could cuss in ancient Norse. That’s some good, intense stuff. At one company, we got particularly scatological, e.g.: “the database has shit in the web server’s soup again.” or “arrgh the web server’s full of pee!” That’ll raise a few eyebrows.

    It’s also fun to ‘cuss’ in fake language. I speak no German but can do a passable job of making gutteral cursing noises that’ll raise an eyebrow every time. I learned that trick from a guy who had practiced cursing in fake movie Japanese – you know, imagine Toshiro Mifune as Kikuchiyo telling you that you were a bug he wanted to stomp on. That kind of thing. Alfred Jarry’s famous “Merdre!” sounds very much like the French word for “shit” (“merde”) but the additional “re” turns it into something we might render as “shittre” – I believe Jarry did that so the Paris snobs of the belle epoque didn’t sniff their nose-hairs into a twist at the language in Ubu Roy.

    Anyway, “power to the people!” and “kill the rich!” are good general purpose things to throw out when you stub a toe or something. And for goodness sake, don’t say “jesus christ” when you can say “Marx and Engels!”

  4. StonedRanger says

    I think its hilarious when parents think their little darlings dont swear. You should spend some time near an elementary or middle school. I was in the US Army for four years in the 70’s and I thought I had a good handle on how and when to swear. I lived near a middle/junior high school and my god, those little kids swore all the time, every day. Johnny and Mary’s mommy and daddy would be mighty upset to hear how their little darlings would make a sailor blush. My kids were pretty good about not swearing around me and momma, but I made an exception for when we were fishing or doing other outdoorsy stuff.

  5. says

    Eh, if the kid can use the words correctly, I have no problem with it beyond teaching the kid that there are times and places where we don’t use those words, and people we definitely don’t say them in front of.

  6. billseymour says

    I agree with the bit about “situational awareness” which has already been pointed out. An important consideration for me is whether others how might hear me will be offended; and I have no reason to offend people who haven’t offended me.

    I also agree that swearing indiscriminantly reduces the words’ effectiveness, and I’m against making strong words weak. It also seems to me that lots of swearing marks speakers, or writers, as ones who can’t express themselves effectively; and sloppy language always makes me suspect sloppy thought.

    • ashes says

      This reminds me of the poetry class I took last fall at a nearby university. I’m 37 and I was by far the oldest in the class. Most of the other students were around 19 or 20. There were a few people in the class that used fuck in their poems about every other word. It was hard to take them seriously. I thought they sounded like angry teenagers but then again, maybe that’s what they were.

  7. Jazzlet says

    Context is everything with swearing, knowing when it is useful, knowing when it is acceptable, when it will cause people to look down on you, when it will offend and when it will lose you your job. This is true of language use in general, but especially true of swearing, if you know the effect swearing will have you can use it or not to your advantage. Which is pretty much what the others have said.

    This also applies to the accent in which the language is spoken, I knew a child whose accent meant that “fox” sounded like “fucks”, which was startling until you realised he was talking about a fox – funny when he was little, but he needed to learn to be able to speak with less of a regional accent when he was in more formal circumstances as he grew up.

  8. says

    I swear. A lot.
    I taught my kids two things :
    One there’s a place and time for everything. Dropping glitter at home : go on.
    Getting the wrong result in Maths: hold your horses.
    Second : there’s swear words, there’s insults, and there’s slurs. Saying shut and damn and fuck is one thing. Calling somebody an asshole is another thing and you should be really careful with that. Calling somebody a slur (or using one as a swear word) is unacceptable. Having categories one and two separate from three also makes it easier for them to understand category three. If you just have “bad words”, but use them yourself and they hear them everywhere, then your rules lose all meaning.

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