My father was an artist with language, and obscenity was his medium.
– Ralphie Parker, "A Christmas Story"
Fathers need to understand that their language skills will be absorbed by their children, especially the words they choose. I always identified with Ralphie Parker since my father was a Korean Veteran who closed out his army career as a Drill instructor. Consequently, I heard obscenities – scatological and otherwise – which I didn’t learn until adulthood were physically impossible. And yes, my father didn’t react terribly well when he heard me use some of this language. You’re a kid and I’m an adult so you can’t use that language. Dammit.
First and foremost, understand that today’s general society isn’t your friend when it comes to language. Or to a lot of other things, but that’s another article. You can feel like an utter idiot on some days, but that doesn’t alter the fact that when they are small, your children will truly look up to you and strive to emulate you. On a general time frame, they’ll suspect idiocy in elementary school and positively believe it in their teens. You have to make a conscious effort to monitor your language and it’s this effort that will largely set the stage for their own use of language.
After cracking down on your own profanity, remember to always ask the question, where is this coming from? Knowing this can help you define a context on how you address the foul language. The smallest children can simply stumble across a word as they play with sounds. One of my children, then a small toddler, happened upon the word f*** while we were with a large group of people at a Relay-for-life event. He wandered around experimenting with sounds ending in -ck when he blurted out that one. Prophetically, that’s the one that he came back to repeatedly until we redirected him to a different sound. The where is this coming from question is essential; once the child recognizes that a line’s been crossed it frequently becomes more difficult to ascertain the source. Seeing something on cable or hearing raw lyrics? Another kid at school? Your own mouth coming back to bite you?
As the children age, they’ll start to bring words to you for explanation. My approach has been to first define the word and then place it in context, followed by a warning about usage. My sense of this approach is that while it can be uncomfortable, to shunt the question aside or refuse it runs a greater risk of closing down the communication avenue between you and your child. Nah, don’t take it to Dad ‘cuz he’ll just turn red and find something else to do. The kid is better served getting any information from you and your mate than some middle school reprobate.
For example, one of my children, a sixth grader, asked me about the term douchebag. Where’d you hear that word? Bocephus was using it to describe another boy during a playground basketball game. I explained the technical definition – uncomfortable to have to tell a daughter – and then placed it in its appropriate context. This was topped off by the warning that this language isn’t used by Dad and any further usage will have consequences.
There are other things to remember and consider with your – and your child’s – language.
- As stated before, very small children will often stumble across the word inadvertantly and the best option is to redirect them to something else. It’s likely that they won’t even know that they’ve hit the mother lode.
- If you do drop a major word, don’t necessarily bring attention to it since it’s liable to have totally escaped them. If they ask how you know the mother of the man in the car ahead of you, then you need to make things right. Otherwise, keep rolling and listening.
- Work to respond calmly when you hear your child use foul language. If they’re hearing it at school or in the media, they probably have little understanding of the meaning. Dropping the hammer on an unsuspecting child is poor form and will make it more difficult to find the source.
- That said, feel free to drop the hammer if they’ve been warned on more than one occasion or are certainly old enough to know better.
- The response that you can use that language since you’re an adult really has no merit. Like it or not, you’re an example. Be one.
Unless you’re Amish or a mute, expect to screw up and drop language bombs as you spend time with your kids. But also expect to have to explain and even apologize for poor language when you get caught. It’s best to handle it on the spot then in front of the folks at the store, the PTA or church.
As my brother-in-law related, the pastor at a children’s sermon complimented a little girl on her dress. Her response was: thank you, but Mommy says it’s a bitch to iron.