Kids, Swearing and Potty Language: How Do You Handle It in Your House?

Posted September 14, 2012 by

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Recently, a girl was denied her high school diploma because she said the word “hell” in her Valedictorian speech at graduation. Like most other readers, I find this punishment to be a bit harsh. Sure, she’s the valedictorian, so she should set a good example. However, she used it in the context of a favorite movie quote and wasn’t telling people to go to the place named this said explicative. I don’t even consider “hell” to be a swear word, even though there are people who would disagree. If that were the case, priests everywhere would be washing their mouth out with soap.  There are many other words out there that are way more offensive and I’m guessing even the principal of the above-mentioned school has used some in his daily dealings.

When I was little, I’d sometimes catch my parents swearing and would later use those choice words in a conversation. When I was caught and my parents got mad about it, I just had to tell them that I learned it from them and they backed off. Then again, I thought the Yiddish word “Kaynehore” (kay-na-hora) was a curse word and would use it as such.  I didn’t understand why I wasn’t getting in trouble for it though. Even the words I repeated from my parents were worse than “hell.” I also watched movies with adult language and didn’t understand much of it as a kid anyway.

As a mom, I’ve had to curb my language use a lot. Not only do I do this in the house, but also in e-mails to my friends, where I tend to “star” out certain letters of curse words. My colorful use of language has gone from HBO to PBS over time. Suddenly, “stupid,” is the main swear word in our house. I was watching a movie the other night where not only did a mom swear in front of her child, but she did so in the voice of the child’s favorite Sesame Street character. I think I was the most appalled by that part, while one of my friends who isn’t used to such colorful language in movies had her mouth open in shock the entire time. Even while reading books, I tend to comment in my reviews when I feel an author has used the “F” word or any other assortment of swear words a bit too heavily.

I feel that it is important to use clean language around children. I don’t think a swear word here or there has ever hurt anyone, but in trying to raise children to be polite individuals, there is no room for such words. If “stupid” is the worst word they’ll ever hear, I feel I’ve done my job well as a parent. Sure, I’ll slip up from time to time (especially upon being injured), but I try my hardest to watch my language around my children, and if that transfers into my dealings in the professional and social scenes, then I don’t think anyone will complain that I wasn’t swearing enough.

On a funny side note, we try to curb our children from using too much potty language, unless they’re actually using it in reference to when they have to go to the bathroom. One time, my younger son told me, “I have to go to the bathroom to make potty language.” That’s when I knew I had done my job — but then immediately was worried that I was being too strict!

What do you think? Should the girl who said “hell” in her graduation speech been denied her diploma? How do you handle swearing in your house?


Melissa A. and her husband have 2 young sons, E and M, and a new baby daughter. Melissa's son E has hearing loss and wears a cochlear implant. Melissa works as an administrative assistant for a non-profit and also runs a bullying prevention group and a book-related fan group, in addition to blogging for Empowering Parents. You can check out Melissa’s personal blog here.

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  1. thecriticalmom Report

    This is harsh indeed. The writer Rolando Hinojosa, who grew up in Texas, once reminisced about saying “It rained like hail” and getting the hairy eyeball for the pronunciation . . .
    The context is all. Was the Valedictorian trying to shock folks with a not very shocking word? Or was the word “hell” important to her message? That’s what I’d like to know.

  2. Kelly Report

    Trying to protect your children from bad language is pretty much a losing battle. I’ve never tried to protect my kids from it as much as teach them what is appropriate and what isn’t – it is never appropriate to use language that is offensive to other people in front of those other people, and they should always be mindful of other people’s feelings. It’s not appropriate at school, grandma’s house, when grandma visits, etc. I don’t want the words to have power over my kids – I want, instead, to teach my kids to be respectful. If they let lose with a bad word while playing video games, I don’t really care. I DO care if they call each other names, whether curse words or not.

    In other words, for me, it’s about teaching them to be respectful of other people, rather than telling them “these words are BAD! you can never say this!”



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