As kids get older, they come across strong language in everything from YouTube videos to nasty online comments. And lately, the amount of swearing in public discourse seems to have bumped up a few notches on social media and television that are hard to avoid. Parents can take advantage of these moments by explaining how shows (and other media) get attention for profanity.
Kids' fascination with taboo words isn't new, of course. Around the age of 5 or 6, most kids get a big thrill out of potty language (hello, Captain Underpants!) or any word that gets a rise out of parents. This age is a great time to help kids understand that there are places where certain language is okay (like in silly books) but not in others (like at the dinner table).
What kids intuitively understand is that words are powerful, and certain words make a big impact.
Here are some tips for talking to kids about strong language.
Think time and place.
What might be no big deal at your house could be offensive at your best friend's place. Remind kids to keep their audience in mind when they're speaking. The language you use when texting your best buddy can be a bit looser than the words you use in a classroom or when speaking to Grandma on Facebook Messenger.
Expand your own vocabulary.
You can almost always find a substitute for a curse word. Encourage kids to check out a thesaurus and find some creative alternatives to common curses or different ways to describe the feeling that's making them want to curse. (My son is saying "peanut butter" instead of "dummy." I tend to use "fig" a lot when I'm frustrated.)
Being called a name like "bitch" or "jerk" can sting. And just like it's not OK to hit someone or bully them, it's not OK to curse at someone to hurt them. Plus, hate speech (words used to specifically target someone's race, religion, gender, etc.) can have major consequences. Point out when TV characters call each other names, and ask kids how they could have handled the situation differently.
Language reflects on you.
Maybe some of your kids' friends think cursing makes you cool, but the reality is that someone who curses a lot tends to look immature and not at all classy. Remind kids to keep that in mind, especially when they're sending their language out into the world on social networks, online communities, etc.
Check out the "language" sections of Common Sense media reviews to help select TV shows, movies, games, etc. that keep the language within your comfort level. Find out how to turn off comments or access to chat rooms if kids are seeing inappropriate language on the web.
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