Over the weekend, my son unleashed his first (real) swear word. (A few months ago he said “damn” a few times but that hardly counts).
My son’s chosen curse was “bitch!” And, oddly enough, he didn’t direct it at Jenny McCarthy or Andy Dalton or even that evil maid on “Downton Abbey”. In fact, as far as Mom and Buried and I could tell, he didn’t direct it at anyone. He just kind of said it. And it was pretty evident that he had no idea what it meant.
But it didn’t stop the Buried household from doing some soul-searching. Nobody wants to raise an asshole.
Obviously, cursing doesn’t make you an asshole. I curse a lot, in print and in person, and that’s not the sum of my character. (I’m an asshole for a whole bunch of reasons.) I usually curse for emphasis, or for laughs. But regardless of my rationalizations, those words – once so forbidden, both in my home and, more generally, in the world at-large – are a part of my vocabulary. And Mom and Buried’s, too. You’re probably no stranger to the occasional curse word yourself; who is, these days? (Oh, you are? Congratulations, you’re going to heaven.) Not everyone casually swears, but I’m fairly confident in assuming more people do today than they did when my parents were my age. We can probably blame TV.
George Carlin’s seven dirty words, and dozens of others besides, are everywhere these days. Not only on TV but in movies, in popular music, and all over the internet. It’s getting harder and harder to shield our children from sex and violence and all that other ostensibly adult material, and that’s a big concern for parents. We can take precautions but, short of going Amish, we’re hard-pressed to find a way to keep pop culture’s occasionally negative influence out of the house.
I love pop culture and I’m no prude; I plan to introduce Detective Munch to a lot of my favorite examples of it. Just not yet. He’s only three! Which is actually kind of good, because even if he accidentally sees a second of one of Daddy’s adult TV shows, odds are he’s not going to start shooting people like Raylan Givens does, or having sex with them like everyone on Game of Thrones does. Even catching just the merest glimpses of sex and violence can affect a kid (and can be internalized in profound ways), but until you’re at least a little bit older than my son, that kind of behavior is less easily copied. Repeating bad language, though, is a cinch, especially with toddlers, who are parrots from the get-go.
I’ve written in the past about how kids copy what they see, how their behavior reflects their parents’, and how it’s important not to encourage the wrong things. Swearing is a perfect example of all three of those things. They’re gonna hear their share of swear words via entertainment, and their friends, and other adults, but it’s when they hear them from their parents that it makes the most impact. And that’s who they’re gonna copy, more often than not. So we need to take responsibility for my son sounding like a rap lyric.
I don’t know who my son was copying when he said “bitch” but I do know Mom and Buried and I got into a big argument about it. We both swear, maybe too much, and while I’m no angel, but I try to curb my usage of more colorful language when I’m around my son. But when using those words has become such a habit and is so ingrained in my everyday speech, I’m not always aware that I’m doing it. It’s inevitable that, despite my best efforts, my kid has heard me saying some bad words around the house, and he’s probably heard my wife say some too. And the more he hears his Mom and Dad use them, the more acceptable they seem. Which is the problem.
I’m not always proud of some the language I use, but I don’t think swearing is inherently wrong, provided that it’s not constant, is used in the right (or at least not in the wrong) context, and isn’t deployed with malice. But I’m an adult. My son is not. It will take him some time to understand the impact of swear words, and how and when to use them “properly”. Until then, those words are verboten. Which means they should probably be off-limits for me and my wife too. Which is SO LAME. But it’s the only way we’ll have a leg to stand on when we come down on him for cursing. Sure, he’s eventually going to figure out that we’re huge hypocrites about tons of things, like all parents, but he doesn’t have to know just yet.
So we’re trying. It may not be easy, but what about parenting is? Mom and Buried and I are also trying to yell less, trying to be more patient, to eat better, to watch less TV and to do all sorts of other pointless things. Parenting is an ongoing battle that you often lose. The important part is that you care enough to give things like not swearing a shit.
I mean: a shot.
HOMEWORK: After my son let loose with the b-word, I took to Facebook to ask the Dad and Buried community if they’d had any similar incidents. You owe it to yourself to check out the resulting comments. And while you’re there, give my page to a Like!