My 6-year-old drops F-bombs.
To be fair, it’s usually on a bus or subway, and the context is, “MY MOM SAID FUCK! EVERYONE, MY MOM SAID A BAD WORD!” It’s often bellowed with a mischievous glint in his eye, prompting snickers from fellow commuters. It’s how he acquired his nickname “The Bad Word Police.”
I just shrug, because context is everything. It’s more upsetting to me if my son tells someone to “shut up” than if he mutters an expletive to himself as his Lego tower collapses. The values I try to emphasize in my child is that words can hurt people and should be used in ways that are thoughtful, responsible, and appropriate–i.e. the classroom is NOT an appropriate place to drop F-bombs (once he said “damn it” in class and it landed him in timeout. He never swore in school again).
By not banning words, I hope to train my child to think critically, use common sense, and be kind. I also want him to be articulate and assertive as he finds his way through life, and that requires a full arsenal of words at his disposal. He will learn that–save for several slurs with ugly histories that he is too young to understand—no word in the English language is inherently vulgar and violent.
Here are a few more reasons why I let my child swear with abandon:
1. Honesty is the best policy.
Within reason, I have found it helpful to talk to my son like an adult. As a result, my inquisitive first grader has a vague understanding of our family’s finances, why his dad and I split up, approximately where babies come from, and what I think happens when we die.
Similarly, I see no harm is acknowledging that taboo words exist for good reason. When my son asked me why bad words were invented if we are not supposed to say them, I responded, “Because when people are really, really upset, sometimes saying a bad word makes them feel better.”
(Here is a study indicating that using foul language relieves stress and pain. See? Cursing is healthy and may even make us better parents.)
2. I’m a hypocrite.
It’s too late. He’s probably acquired the bulk of his swear word repertoire from mommy’s sailor mouth.
Also, as a parent on the youngish end of the spectrum, many of my friends have no children and therefore forget to censor themselves around mine, and if you have hung out with a 6-year-old recently, you know that nothing slides past them.
3. Banning anything usually backfires.
Granted, not all kids respond this way, but given my son’s contrariness (which I secretly find adorable), anything that gets a negative reaction from me becomes that much more appealing to him. Having a singularly “bad” word would only make him want to say it more.
I use the old reverse psychology. The word “fuck” is not exceptional to my kid, so he doesn’t defiantly throw it at me any more or less than the other words I instruct him to use responsibly.
4. We’re Jews.
Let us not forget that we stiff-necked peoples have been running our mouths uncensored since the time of Moses. Often it got us in trouble, like that time the Jews complained about the manna in the desert and God sent a plague of poisonous snakes. We are unfiltered and we bitch a lot and that’s OK.
In more recent history, Jewish humorists from Lenny Bruce to Sarah Silverman used profanity to challenge conventions and anti-Semitism (see: Tablet Magazine’s wonderful podcast interview with Josh Lambert on the topic).
My parents curse, my grandparents cursed (albeit in Yiddish, because they were Eastern European shtetl people), Susie Essman curses. As good Jews, my son and I prefer to celebrate our expletive-laden heritage.