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I won’t apologize for my child’s bad language – and here is why!

My children have amazing vocabularies. Even my youngest, who is only eleven, often speaks as if she just finished an SAT prep course (Yeah… I’m bragging). They can drop four and five-syllable words in proper context without skipping a beat, leaving a wake of impressed (and sometimes confused) adults behind them. I’m not sorry if my children confuse you with big words.

The lexicons they carry around inside of their heads are rather impressive, but their language does often wax colorful. Meaning there are quite a few socially controversial words that occasionally proceed from the lips of my darling children. I’m not sorry if my children offend you with their controversial words.

I won’t apologize. It’s kind of by design.

Being firm believers in freedom of speech and wanting to foster creativity as well as super human vocabularies, my husband and I haven’t censored our children’s language and we haven’t censored our own when we are in their presence (at least not to the degree employed by most parents).

In our family, no words are considered “bad” or off-limits. No one gets a spanking or a time-out for uttering an expletive. There won’t be any parental yelling or lectures about respect should one of the kids use one of the racier “sentence intensifiers”, the kind that get bleeped boxing-100733out during regular television broadcasts (probably right in the middle of physical violence and sexual content, but that’s a subject for another day). And should some old lady at the grocery store get her panties in a wad over something one of my kids says, I won’t be issuing an apology.

Words in and of themselves are neither “good” nor “bad”.  They are just words. The meanings that people ascribe to them, the accepted social conventions and the intentions behind the words, are what determine whether those words are good or bad. Why are some words considered acceptable while others that mean basically the same thing wind up on the bleep list? Only because Society has created rather arbitrary lists of shameful words.

As a family, we choose to focus on the intentions behind the words, rather than their shock value. In fact, by refusing to censor words just for words’ sake, we’ve stripped them of their power. When a child is heavily reprimanded amid gasps of adult horror over experimenting with a naughty word, he learns that the word has a fascinating sort of power, power to initiate strong responses in the adult world. Before it may have seemed like just an ordinary word with nothing unusual to set it apart. It may have just been a word he overheard spoken on the television or at the park or in a parental conversation, but once the word creates shock and horror and negative attention, it becomes a word with super powers. And young children, who often feel small and helpless, like to feel powerful.

Words are just words until we give them power. To a young child, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the word “sh-t” or “damn”. It is the reaction of the adults in his life that creates a child’s fascination with words that are taboo.

But a simple “sh-t” or “damn” uttered in a moment of frustration doesn’t harm anyone (unless you count Grandma’s mental anguish). However, real emotional damage can be done with words that don’t make Society’s list of “bad” words. One doesn’t have to spew expletives to hurt feelings, break trust, or damage self-esteem. It isn’t always the “bad” words that are used to bully and harm. It’s not the words alone, but the intentions behind them that most often cause emotional scars. And not even the most sincere apology can heal emotional wounds.

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Take the word “hate” for example. If a child were to say, “I hate broccoli,” (and what kid hasn’t said that?) it’s just a harmless expression of disgust over an inanimate object. No one is hurt by the use of the word. However, if a child exclaims, “I hate you!” the intentions are entirely different. The word is being used in that case to insult and hurt. It’s the same word, and it certainly isn’t one television broadcasters choose to censor, but the intentions in both situations are entirely different.

We’ve decided to focus on what we consider the bigger picture rather than the minute details when it comes to our children’s language. Instead of focusing on the words themselves, we’ve instead decided to focus on the intentions behind them. A curse blurted over a stubbed toe is one thing. Words, curse words or otherwise, used to insult, slander, or belittle another person are completely unacceptable. Name calling, taunting, insulting, or provoking another person (even if that person is your little brother who is driving you crazy) is crossing a clear and non-negotiable line.

Our children aren’t wild hellions shouting curse words at the neighbors as they walk by. Just because they CAN curse, doesn’t mean they always do. As they have gotten older, they have learned the inappropriateness of certain words in certain social situations, and they exercise restraint accordingly. They know that they sometimes need to hold their tongue in public (and especially during visits from Grandma) because they usually don’t want negative attention (and they love their grandmother).

Although sometimes they do want that kind of attention… in which case, they are liable to drop an F-bomb. It tends to get the point across.

And you won’t hear any apologies from me.

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Alice Jones Webb
Alice Jones Webb is a homeschooling mom to four kids, a writer, bookworm, laundry sorter, black belt, nerd, free-thinker, obsessive recycler, closet goth, a bit of a rebel, but definitely not your typical soccer mom. You can usually find her buried under the laundry and also on her blog, Different Than Average, Facebook and Twitter.
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