What do you do when the kids are coming home with dirty jokes? This is especially a question that arises with pubescent boys, but it can also crop up more frequently with the girls, and one that my wife and I wrestled with before reaching a compromise.
With the prevalence of electronic media, things today are definitely more raw than when I was a kid. Jokes are cruder and the ability to see questionable sights and actions on Youtube means that the exposure is wider than two decades ago. So what do you do with that?
My wife grew up in a family that taught the value of good manners and raised the kids to appreciate finer things. I grew up in a family that laughed at fart jokes at the dinner table. And as our kids have grown and come home from school, we’ve not always agreed on how to handle things.
So what do we do?
- Highlight the concept of time and place with the kids. I can’t control what Middle says to his friends in the locker room, but I can control what’s said in the house and at public venues. There are appropriate times and places to pass along dirty jokes but at the table or in front of the grandparents is neither and is unacceptable. It’s proven to be a long. long conversation but one that is sinking in as he’s learned the value of self-censorship and has actively refrained from off-color comments.
- Assure that the kids know that I’m the guy that wants to hear the jokes. Yes, I like adult humor – within reason – and I appreciate a joke as much as anybody. And kids do want to share these with their parents, whether the parents realize it or not. They might understand that Mom and Dad might kill them, but they do want to share. In our household, Mom isn’t the person for that.
- Hearing it also gives me the opportunity to see where they’re at in terms of understanding the human body, sexuality and topical events. I can laugh, but they know that I’ll sometimes ask questions to gauge their understanding of what’s really been said and will even explain or correct misinformation and misunderstandings.
- I frequently use these jokes as an opportunity to discuss morality and treatment of one another. So that’s what the joke’s referring to. Is that a way that you’d want to be treated? Or see a member of your family treated? You might think that they’re tuning you out, but they really are listening and you have to grab every opportunity you can.
- Hearing it also helps to push the idea of time and place. There have been jokes that I’ve had to explain and then make sure that they understand why certain jokes can’t ever see the light of day again. And frankly, there have been jokes and comments that they’re horrified that they’ve made once they understand the full meaning.
You have to accept certain premises to make this work, however. You have to be able to control your reaction so that the kid isn’t terrified of your response. And you have to be willing to speak frankly about sex and the body, especially in proper terminology. Using slang in this situation runs the risk of shifting you from the father/parent role to that of a buddy or someone on the kid’s level, which isn’t what you want in this situation.
So enjoy a good laugh when the kids brings home a dirty joke. But be sure to monitor your reaction and be ready to talk about it further.