When your child first utters a swear word it will shock the pants off you, but as Michael Pickering discovered, your moral duty has only just begun when it comes to kids swearing…
Along with JFK’s assassination, the Challenger exploding and the Twin Towers falling, you’ll always remember where you were the first time your (formerly) angelic child says, “Fuck!”
In my case, it was at Avalon’s fourth birthday party, a pre-school pal of my daughter’s. It was my girl’s first proper birthday party attendance and it all was all going swimmingly until about an hour in when there was a dispute over some toy or other and my beautiful, unimpeachable daughter ended the disagreement with…
“Bye! Thanks for having us!” I shouted over my shoulder as we bolted, me in the full throes of embarrassment mortification.
I didn’t even know she knew the word. It should have been obvious; she had two older, school-age brothers. Still, the shock was considerable and, of course, as soon as she realised the reaction it caused in me, “fuck” was brought out pretty frequently in the following weeks.
I know, I know. Kids swearing isn’t that bad and I shouldn’t be so concerned. They don’t know what it means. They stop doing it once you stop reacting to it, etc etc. All true, to a degree. But if you’ve ever been within earshot of a group of early teens recently, say on public transport or in a shopping mall food hall, you’ll soon discover that more than 80 per cent of their vocabulary appears to be profanity.
A close mate of mine with two teenage daughters recently said he had to intervene and ask for them to stop swearing at the family dinner table, so bad had it got. “And who’s to blame for that?” I asked him. “Me and the missus, of course.”
Monkey see, monkey do. Adults without control of their mouths produce children without control of their mouths. Yeah, I know, I’m coming across as some finger-wagging, fuddy-duddy do-gooder, I get it. You can hear it all on network TV before 8 pm at night these days, you know, Michael.
I guess my point is that if you’re going to teach your children to swear, either consciously (god forbid) or subconsciously (we’ve all done it, in moments of stress), then goddamit, at least teach them to swear properly. By which I mean, for effect. The aforementioned teenagers just use swear words to fill in spaces between inarticulate brainfarts, and simultaneously (in their heads) look tough, cool and… adult.
But good swearing only has impact when it’s used sparingly. Think Hugh Grant’s famous slept-in “Fuck” in Four Weddings And A Funeral.
Or Ron Burgundy’s message to the people of San Diego in Anchorman.
Swearing done well is brief, well timed, emphatic and therefore, way more effective. Teach your kids well.
In retrospect, my daughter’s first go at it was a classic of the genre: ended the argument. Stopped everyone dead. Dayum, it ended the party (for her)! She’ll still drop a “fuck” or a “shit” to get a rise out of me sometimes, but I’m coaching her bit by bit to save them, sweetie pie, for the day when you really need them.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not happy about kids swearing, not happy at all, but fuck it, if they’re going to do, at least get them to do it properly.