So I guess it occurred to me today as I was driving my two young children to school and heard my 4 year old daughter very clearly (and enthusiastically) singing along to AC/DC’s classic Highway to Hell… is that appropriate? In all honesty my first thought was to be quite impressed that she knew so many words and could belt it out in Brian Johnson fashion. But then I wondered, how many times in a day I let a profane tickle past my nose and head straight for my kids?
It’s kinda tough these days..Disney movies put in more jokes aimed at the parents (yeah like Dusty crop-hopper getting ‘circumcised‘…really guys?), don’t get me started on what the plaster over latin american billboards and just heading out to a museum or aquarium you are bound to overhear some colorful thoughts being shared around you. I am sure they also hear me let something slip which is what probably impacts them the most. Like most parents, none of us try to poison their ears and we all try to keep our filters up and active but…sh** happens!
I remember one time my son was with me buying some diapers for his sister who was in a bjorn carrier jam strapped to me, arms waving like a muppet laughing as we tried to find the right box. My son spotted one that was very (not) conveniently on the bottom of a stack (perfect eye-level) and as he helped grab it for us (gotta love his helper phase) the entire display of boxes fell down around us both and on top of him. He escaped from the rubble unharmed but looked at the mess of boxes and loudly said, ‘oh shit mom’. He was just about 4. I did one of those open mouth, half smile, half bewildered eyes shooting left and right looks most parents are familiar with when their kids do something culturally unacceptable in public. Then I did what I thought was best, which was to give my son a sympathetic nod and helped him to pick up all the boxes while making sure the other people, children, nuns..ect, in the aisle were ok after the avalanche. I guess I was too busy stacking boxes with baby in bjorn 6 month legs kicking to notice any judgmental comments or side-eyes thrown my way if there were any. I like to remember that no one was really bothered or cared.
Another time, more recently our son really wanted to see a new Star Wars movie as many of his friends had watched it and he felt left out. We thought the newer ones were pretty dark and violent so to shield him from that, we suggested we watch Spaceballs with him instead. We thought it was an awesome parenting bait and switch, a classic early 90’s Mel brooks movie instead of the evil daddy-issues filled prequels. I guess it had been a while, as we completely forgot how many overt dirty jokes and four letter words were in there BUT totally not violent…so a win, right? About a quarter of the way through we started to remember and tried the ol’ suddenly TALK REALLY LOUD / SNEEZE when a bad word was coming up to drown it out. I do that trick with music in the car too sometimes. Probably didn’t help to reinforce that some words were inappropriate when we were laughing hysterically… but, you know…
There are also lots of incidences we just can’t control, a dude flipping off someone who stole his parking spot at the grocery store; a crazy lady talking loudly on her cell phone walking down the street; nice people getting into an adult conversation at a table next to us at a restaurant…sometimes kids hear profanity with anger, sometimes with laughter, sometimes they have no clue as to the context.
After incidences such as these, I generally find a time soon after and calmly say something like, ..do you know that those words could offend someone so we should not use it…kind of a standard parent response. My son would always nod and say sorry / I understand and I wouldn’t push more than that as I didn’t think it was worth explaining something he barely understood yet. Plus how can I totally outlaw it when I’ve used them myself, I don’t mind being a failure every now and again, but I don’t want to be a hypocrite if I can avoid it. I wonder when kids really start to get the meaning of these words. I used to think it was older but now I think it maybe more in the 5ish range (at least for my kids). I never wanted to make a big deal of it if they said something in an innocent way (which is almost always the case as they don’t have the context or anger to use such words aggressively). All kids also know the more reaction you get out of something the better, so we always down play it. Knock on wood but this seems to have worked for now as my 4 and 6 year olds don’t speak like sailors in public nor at home. I have no idea how it will change.
It’s a tough one..as I still not sure what makes a word good or bad. I only understand that if something offends someone else, then try your best not to do it. That is the simple and basic lesson that I want my kids to get and the yard-stick I want them to use. If we all just use names, connotations, phrases and even expletives that tried and had the intension to not offend others, I do think the world would be a more tolerant place. But if I always shield them from others using such language how could they ever learn the difference? Did you know the dictionary actually says that ‘Expletive means either an oath or a swear word? I didn’t think oaths (which I guess I ignorantly always thought were good) and swear words (typically negative) were so close so what do I know. I guess then it is great the world has some crazy extreme types to help teach the middle of the roaders what boundaries they should stick between. Personally, I want my kids to be empowered in picking certain boundaries for themselves as I think they will be more personal and stronger for them over time verses ones that we just dictate for them.
I will ponder that in regards to profanity while my 4 year old daughter serenades me with more AC/DC after school today.