You know, I’ve changed a lot since becoming a parent. More responsible. Better with money. Less heels, more flats. But for all the things I’ve changed over the years, there’s one thing I haven’t been able to nail. My foul mouth. My commitment to swearing is real, so much so that I often don’t even realise I’m doing it. It’s a bad habit, one that my husband pulls me up on all the time when we’re around the kids. Try as I may, there’s just no replacement for my staples. I tried kicking it old school a few times and replacing my “shit!” with “drats!” or “dang!” but I couldn’t keep it up. I felt like a fraud; an 85-year-old fraud named Ethel who likes cross-stitching and bird-watching.
“Shit” doesn’t even really feel like swearing to me anymore. It’s more my love of the word “f**k” that gets me into trouble. There is just no replacement; it punctuates my points like nothing else and even when I write it, it has to be in all caps: “What the F**K?!?” or my personal fave, “For F**K’s sake!” I can’t even bring myself to text FFS. It’s just not the same.
Even though my mouth is dirtier than a primary school toilet floor, my kids don’t swear. At all. This makes me feel a) happy that I can continue swearing without guilt and b) SO proud that they get it; the ‘it’ being that some things, like a glass of wine or driving a car, are AO – Adults Only – and not acceptable for children. They are still only eight and six, so this could very possibly bite me on the arse when they hit their teen years, but for now, we’re cruising. I’m not just trying to make myself feel better either – the professionals even think so.
A recent article in the New York Post quotes author of the book, “What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves,” and professor of cognitive science at San Diego’s University of California, Benjamin K. Bergen, who says “Children’s minds are resilient to profanity.”
Dr Bergen argues against the idea that exposure to profanity in childhood has a detrimental effect on kids, both on an emotional and physiological level; an allegation that was published in a study in the medical journal of Paediatrics. He says that it’s not the swearing itself, but the tendency to group bad language and verbal abuse together, that has given it such a bad rap, as seen in a 2010 Scandinavian study. The study, conducted on thousands of teenagers, showed that children exposed to verbal abuse are much more inclined to “report psychological problems like depression, anxiety, aggression and hyperactivity.”
But, as Dr Bergen says, swearing and verbal abuse are NOT the same. “You can use profanity positively, and you can use ‘clean’ language abusively,” Dr Bergen says and he is bang on I reckon. Case in point: If I were to say to my kids, “You two are hopeless, useless, little nobodies” – that’s nasty and abusive. On the other hand, if I was to say, “F**k, I love you guys so much!” yeah, it’s probably overdoing it, but it’s said with affection and love, not anger or abuse.
The most important thing to remember is whether you’re a swearer or a cleanly-spoken parent, a slip of the tongue at a footy match or when you’ve burnt your hand on the oven, isn’t harming your kids. It’s the difference between aggressively swearing AT them or swearing in their presence that makes the biggest difference to how the words effect them. Sometimes it’s just a matter of explaining yourself to your little ones and if you’re anything like me, reiterating that they’re ‘grown up’ words and not ones to be spoken from their little mouths – until they’re at least old enough to drive a car.
Do you swear in front of your children?