Choice Words 2: Battle of Bad Language Continues

Posted December 1, 2008 by

A little while ago, I blogged about starting to address my 13-year-old son’s offensive language. The changes started slowly, but he showed some improvement with consistent feedback. Whenever he slipped, he lost a specific video game or went to bed earlier. But the issue still hangs on. We both need more practice.

I am working on Lessons 2 and 3 in my Total Transformation program, trying to replace my ineffective parenting with more successful parenting roles. I must admit to seeing myself in the program’s description of parents with “bottomless pockets” who over-negotiate, scream and play the martyr. Yep, that’s me. It’s been very helpful, however, to read the workbook and remind myself that my own parental shortcomings do not excuse my child’s inappropriate behavior. In addition, I can’t blame other people or things for his aggressive reactions. He needs to take responsibility for how he solves problems, and I need to help him develop problem-solving skills.

In working to reduce his use of bad language, we talk about “choice of words” daily. I either warn or praise as I hear certain things. I made a specific “hit list” of which words he can get away with and which ones I will not tolerate. He’s a self-appointed authority on almost every subject we tackle and this one is no different! Of course I got the argument that I’m just behind the times. No one cares if he uses those words, he insists. I made the point that I am offended by some words and Grandma is offended by them even more. I said, “We may have different standards than other people, but our standards apply in our home and in our presence outside the home.” I pointed out that the more a person uses rough language, the less they realize it. By meeting a certain standard of respectful speech, he could develop a style of speech less likely to accidentally offend or anger someone in a social setting somewhere down the line. That would help him in all kinds of situations in the future, I said. Little did I know, my point would be reinforced very soon.

My son has computer lab for one hour each day at school. They use an online learning tool that includes an email program. My son decided to send his friend in the same class an email, all in good fun. He called his friend “b—-“ as a nickname. Various other inane comments and jokes followed with texting abbreviations throughout. The school has content filters, which intercepted his email, sending it directly to the teacher. It removed the original recipient’s name, making it appear as if he addressed it to her!! My son ended up in the principal’s office with a note in his file about threatening a teacher with profanity and abusive language. Luckily, the teacher vouched for him, saying he didn’t really send it to her. He got off with six days of in-school suspension. Unfortunately for him, using the wrong words in the wrong situation yielded tougher consequences than just an earlier bedtime.

And by the way, at home, my son lost use of all video game systems until Christmas break. If he makes it another three weeks with no detention or suspension, he can earn them back. Since I don’t have game time to use as a consequence for cursing until then, I am looking for other consequences and rewards. I am considering a sort of family curse bank, but the typical 25-cents-per-curse contribution jar might not work well, because my son never has quarters on hand. My idea: start with a $5 pot, add $1 money daily for no cursing and subtract 25 cents for individual offenses. At the end of each week we could use the bank for ice cream or some other treat. Let me hear from the Empowering Parents readers. Is this a good idea? Or should I just give my son quarters to start with?


Lola Howle is a Parent Blogger for EP.

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  1. Angeline Report

    My son does not respond very well to what I call temporary results. He can stand not having the video game for a while so it’s seems as though it’s OK to him. He is now at an age where his looks matter to him. He wants a certain hairstyle. After nothing else working on his language I made an agreement with the hairstylist. He now gets a trim everytime I hear specific words come out of his mouth. After 3 haircuts in 6 weeks, we no longer have any problems with foul language. I wish I could apply it to everything in his life..

  2. mamagoose Report

    Hi Lola, Thanks for a great article. Regarding the swear jar…we love this concept but had difficulty with the tracking system and availablilty of cash on hand, so we implemented the use of poker chips. Each member of the family (my husband, myself, children 14, 11 and 7) all are awarded 20 poker chips at the beginiing of our pay period (every two weeks which coinicides with allowances). Each chip is valued at $.25 for a total of $5.00. Each incidence of coarse language (which is predetermined as a family) gets one chip in the jar. At the end of the pay period, whatever chips you have left is paid out in cash. It’s positive as well as punitive and has worked great for all of us to be more mindful of polite languauge.

  3. simone Report

    my daughter started cussing at 13 and is 23, she is a beautiful girl, inside and out, although, she could care less how she looks, but that’s for another story. She was not raised with cussing but picked it up through movies and school. We don’t like it and I don’t know how to handle it. Maybe it’s for shock value, I know she says the F word but not around us. My husband and I are not prudes but cussing shows poor behavior and definance. She has distanced herself from us and left her Church to be around misfits, we know that she is ADD and has a host of other issues that only she can correct. We welcome her visits but can’t tolerate her verbal abuse with cussing. It’s almost as if she does this to show some kind of superiority over us. Need some help

  4. Elisabeth Report

    Lola, we just started having this issue at our house recently with our (nearly) 6 year old boy. I’ve always told my husband Joe that if our son starts swearing, it’s going to be his fault. (Joe is a Jersey boy, and he grew up with a very salty vocabulary — ’nuff said.) Then last week, my son swore perfectly at something — and told me that he learned it from me! Boy, did my husband laugh. I guess I deserved the comeuppance, though. So, the swearing jar is going to be set up for all three of us. 🙂 (I’m going to follow Carole’s suggestion and have my son brainstorm some alternative words, too. I’ll let you know what we come up with!)

  5. Carole Banks, LCSW and Parental Support Line Advisor for The Total Transformation Program Report

    Dear Lola, I was reading your blog today and thought I’d chime in here. When it comes to consequences, I like to use the minimum possible to get the point across and then add to it if needed. Twenty minutes, a couple of hours, 24 hours, two days. I think it creates more of an incentive for kids to behave. They are so “here and now” oriented that a couple of months can feel like forever to them and it’s not motivating for them TODAY because it’s too far ahead in the future. I even suggest that if the school consequence is a good one, there is no need to add to that, other than having the Alternative Response conversation (from the Total Transformation Program) with him on what he would do differently next time. I also love the money jars for bad language. It’s immediate, over and done with, great technique for breaking a habit. If it’s a frequent, bad habit, you need something that you can do a couple of times a day like this to change it. Another thing to think about is what are the kids replacing this bad behavior with? They need an appropriate replacement behavior. You all might enjoy sitting down together and deciding what you can say, or what sounds you can make to let off steam. (Younger kids might really enjoy this task.) Hope this is helpful, and good luck!

  6. Lola Report

    Thanks so much for your input Jane and Alana! I love these ideas. I definitely see the upside of the “cuss bank” and the positive aspect of doing good for someone else with it. Also, I appreciate the comment about giving him the chance to earn back games sooner with specific actions. It is hard to impose such a long-term consequence becuase, 1. he basically forgets about the games after awhile, and 2. I’m left with fewer options for other problems that pop up. I’ll try both your ideas and let you know!


  7. Jane Report

    Your thoughts are informative. One thing I disagree with is that you’ve taken away his video games for such a long period of time. Perhaps, you can give him an opportunity to “earn” them back on the weekend if he had no detention or suspension during the previous week. Or, perhaps, he can earn them back for an hour in exchange for choosing from a list of “extra help” chores. This would encourage cooperation and thinking of others and allow him to make a positive choice.

  8. Alana Report

    Hi Lola,

    I just wanted to suggest something. In our home, we’ve found it successful to put a “cuss” jar on the counter and our children have to take from their own money (allowance, etc.) and put money in the jar each time they use an offensive word. Mind you, our kids are 6 and 8. Our offensive words are things like idiot, stupid, butt, etc… I’m sure a teen has a more colorful vocabulary. However, we’ve seen friends do the same with their teens and it works. It really hits home when they have to give up their own money. Instead of using the money in the jar for a treat, we use it to help or serve someone else. We pay a toll for someone with it or we buy a cup of coffee for a stranger, etc..

    Good luck with this issue…. we’re all in this together… Keep on keepin’ on.



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