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Mark Hutten, M.A.
Re: Cursing in Teens and Preteens

How can I get my teen to stop cursing?

Compared with other activities that preteens could involve themselves in, the use of swear words seems minor. It's not
the worst thing kids can do. Kids are told not to take drugs, not to get in fights ... they are told all the things they
cannot do and they think, “Can't I even swear?” Parents need to understand that a child who swears is not a bad kid,
but just a kid that uses "bad" words.

If curse words are just that – words – what is it about them that makes them so inappropriate? Perhaps it is not the
words themselves, but the attitude that accompanies their use. So many of the swear words are used in such a
negative way. Some use them joking around, but most of the swearing is a negative expression of criticism,
complaining, grumbling or just plain negativity. Who wants to hear that? But if you want to curb the cussing in your
family, next to breaking out the soap and washing out a mouth or two, what can you do?
Cussing Doesn't Equal Cool—

Parents who want to rid their children's vocabulary of
swearing should ask their children why they feel they
need to say these words. "Why do you use these
words?" is a good question to initiate conversation to
find the cause of an inappropriate vocabulary.

The answer may or may not be what parents are
expecting. Most kids indicate they swear because their
friends swear, because they want to be cool or because
they want to fit in. We've gotten to the point in society
where we need to show strength, macho-ism – even the
girls. It's rough out there, so we have to show we are
tough and we don't take any crap from anybody. The
use of foul language is related with being tough, rough
and ready for whatever comes along.
Yet the use of "bad" language when trying to be cool or to fit in with a crowd can actually result in the opposite of what
was hoped for. Preteens may need to reconsider what "being cool" is all about.

Being cool means you have control – you have emotional control. Being cool is when you find solutions when everyone
else is complaining. You think of a way out or an easier way of doing things even when upset. When everyone else is
upset, you think of a positive angle to everything – that's being cool. If you do that, you are going to be cool, you are
going to be respected and people are going to say he or she has a good head on his or her shoulders.
Find a Substitute—

As swearing can breed negativity, parents should strive
to help their child overcome these feelings and find an
alternate method of expressing emotion – whatever
emotion it may be. Using crazy words that no one has
ever heard of, as well as common words used out of
their normal context takes the emphasis off the
negativity and puts it more on the expression of what the
teen is feeling. People feel that if a word or phrase is
silly or crazy, that others will look at them funny and
think they are nuts, but in all actuality, these expressions
offer the same amount of emphasis to the expression of
disgust, anger or frustration – whatever the case may be
– without being offensive or negative.
One teenager states, “Some kids create alternative words that enable them to speak and express their emotions freely
without the risk of penalties for bad language. We all have little brothers or sisters who we can't cuss around and we
can't swear on the bus or at school, so we kind of invented our own. Words like 'shoobers' or 'hoobie-doobie' can be
heard all the time. Yeah, maybe the way we use them is the same as other people use cuss words, but our words don't
get us in trouble.”

Be a Good Role Model—

Unfortunately, once kids get to a certain age, there is only so much you can admonish cursing. Talking to someone
they look up to, a coach, a teacher, a cousin and having them talk to your kids about cussing and reputations is way
more valuable than you saying something.

Parents need to set good examples and stand by what they say. I think the real problem with kids swearing is that they
are hearing it from their parents. Even though the parents themselves are telling their children not to use the 'bad'
words, they are setting an example of their use – sometimes without even realizing it. If parents don't want their kids to
use the words, they need to remove the words from their own vocabulary.

Sometimes we all swear without meaning to. If this happens, discuss it with your child. When parents swear, out of
anger or anything else, there's absolutely nothing wrong with their apologizing to their kids for their choice of words.
There is always an alternative to swearing or bad language. The secret is to find it.

NEVER do it yourself—

I was not going to put this one, because I thought it was obvious, but I hear a lot of parents curse at the TV or when
they bang their knee and then turn to their kids and say “don’t every say that.” Nope, doesn’t work.  Kids should listen
to that, because you are the adult, but when they hear you do it, it feels ok to them.

Stop the semi-curse words—

Cursing starts young at the semi-curse words.  What are semi-curse words?

•        Damn
•        Douchebag
•        Jerk
•        Retard
•        Suck

When you hear these, start early, express that there has to be a better way to express what they are trying to say.

The written word—

I think having a casual conversation (especially with kids) about how written cursing is almost worse than out loud
cussing.  You can explain whether it is written on a passed note in class, in an email, or on a notebook, you never
know who sees it and what they will think of you.

Online cussing makes permanent cussing—

Another conversation to have is that the online world is not a good place to do it.  Just because you think there are not
teachers or parents listening, you never know which parents of friends check their pages.  I cannot tell you how many
parents have told me they go on their kids Facebook pages and are horrified at the behavior of their kid’s friends
revolving around curse words on messages, chats and wall posts.  You never know who will see it.  I also tell kids that
colleges, bosses and teachers do look at Facebook pages and swearing like a sailor does not help your application.

Say sorry with grace—

Many parents also do not talk to their kids about what happens if they do curse at an inappropriate time - or a teacher
or friend’s mom sees a foul wall comment.  Often times when it happens, they turn red and giggle or say it did not
happen.  We all have been in the situation where you hurt your knee and scream “f***” or something worse.  I
apologize, admit the error and fess up to the inappropriate outburst.  This is a maturity that kids must learn, because
we all make mistakes.

Cursing is not a huge parenting issue, but it something that is drastically effecting kid’s resumes, online reputations
and perception of friends.  

Cursing in Younger Children—

Here are some suggestions to help you manage the problem of swearing in younger children:

•        If you feel it is appropriate, establish a rule that "no swearing will take place in our home." Do not under any
circumstances tolerate swearing that is aimed at someone in anger. If this occurs, a child may be sent immediately to
her room for a timeout.

•        Minor swearing in frustration is almost a natural human behavior. Although perhaps inappropriate, it is
commonplace in some families. If that is your own personal style, you will find it hard to teach your child something
different.

•        On occasion, you may feel that your child is using profanity in an attempt to provoke a response from you. In
these instances, ignoring her may be the most effective strategy.

•        Reward your child for expressing her frustration appropriately without swearing. Star charts and money are
helpful approaches. For example, use a jar of nickels that she can earn at the end of two weeks; for each day that she
doesn't swear during this time, two additional nickels will be placed in the jar; but each time she swears, nickels will be
removed. Your child will catch on quickly.

•        When your youngster swears, do not overreact with your own outbursts of rage and cursing. Also, washing a
child's mouth out with soap is clearly improper, extreme and ineffective.