Choice Words: Tackling Four-Letter Words with My Teen

Posted October 6, 2008 by

I’m proud to say I have seen a glimmer of hope with my 13 year old son recently. Deciding to start small, I began addressing his bad language. Like most people, I slip occasionally and let fly a curse word or two in his presence. (Sometimes related to something he did or didn’t do.) I sat him down a few weeks ago and told him to clean up his language because it sounds (and is) disrespectful to me, his grandmother and anyone else who happens to be within earshot. I explained that I would participate in this with him, as well. (Doesn’t hurt to set a good example!)

He tends to use various four-letter words even for minor annoyances during games or difficult projects. I have been stopping him every time I hear specific language. Inevitably, he launched into a speech along the lines of, “No one cares about those words. Everyone says them. This is how people talk now. You are just old-fashioned/stupid/mean/in a bad mood.” (Choose your favorite excuse). Ignoring the bait, I don’t argue. I just state the rule of “no more curse words” and tell him what the price will be for another instance. I always choose something immediate that he’s doing or wanting to do that day, such as renting a game at Blockbuster or going out to eat. If he curses again, I calmly carried out the consequence without screaming or lecturing. He lost out on a lot of perks at first. The other day, I passed through the living room where he was playing Xbox and heard the beginning of an exclamation sure to end up as a curse. I heard him start the sentence, hesitate, then substitute a different non-four-letter word! Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him glance at me. I continued past, breaking into a huge private grin as I entered the kitchen. At bedtime that night, I made a point of praising him for making a good choice.

This is the start of something big, as we both learn to make better choices. I may still need training wheels, but I’m picking up speed.


Lola Howle is a Parent Blogger for EP.

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  1. Sherry 09 (Edit) Report

    My hat goes off to you mom for first admitting your wrong choice of using bad language. The first step to fixing a problem is to get to the root of where it started. I too have teens and I have gotten so angry that I used inappropriate words. My children know when mom uses those words, which are very rare; she has reached her breaking point and they get in gear. However when I hear my son say a “dirty word” when he can not figure something out it upsets me. So I can relate. You are going a good job giving him praise as he overcomes such obstacles. Thanks for sharing this success story.

  2. meditation mom (Edit) Report

    Yes, I think it is so easy to get swallowed up in all the negative behavior that is going on that one forgets to notice the positive…so kudoos to you mom for praising the child. I did not grow up with healthy parenting role models and have lots to learn but one thing that helps me remember to focus on the positive is a gratitude practice where each day I write down 3 things I am grateful for about each child and then I remember to tell them,,,it has had a positive effect on their self-esteem hearing me praise them verses criticize them. Good Luck to all of you!!

  3. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor (Edit) Report

    Lola, isn’t it a great feeling when we catch our kids doing something good? (So often, parents find themselves in the opposite situation — I know that’s true at our house!) You should be really proud of yourself, and so should your son. I can’t wait to see how things go as you “pick up speed!” 🙂

  4. Monica (Edit) Report

    Compared to everything else, stopping the nasty language habit at home is pretty easy. When I started using the “no excuses for abuses” technique with my 13 year old, she laughed and said it sounded silly. But after reminding her of it as needed for about 1 week, and doling out a few consequences, she stopped.



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