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Curse Words, Here We Come!

So I took all your thoughts yesterday and sat on them at night like a mother bird warming her eggs.  Little thought eggs.  Why am I so squeamish about curse words in front of the kids?  I’m not squeamish when they come to me with a curse word, asking what it means, but I am squeamish about the idea of presenting them with words: saying them myself or providing them in art.

But still, I don’t want to make those words taboo, so I decided to broach the topic with the twins before bed.  After a long discussion of why there are things that are appropriate in art that aren’t appropriate in the face-to-face world (person stripping in front of you = inappropriate; nudes at the Tate = art) and how people use cursing in songs, I asked them how they would feel if we stopped muting out the curse words and just played the songs as is.

The ChickieNob (of course) raised two interesting questions, neither of which I could answer well in the moment.

1. I am telling them not to use curse words they hear in the songs in school, but the ChickieNob wants to know how she will know what is a curse word and what is simply an unfamiliar word.  She was very concerned about this; that she would inadvertently use a curse word, even in an innocent manner such as asking someone what the word means.  The example she gave was “Gangnam Style.”  She said that kids were reprimanded at school for using the term “sexy.”  It’s a word in the song so they all know it, but the ChickieNob wasn’t aware until kids got in trouble that it would be an inappropriate word to use.  It didn’t occur to her that she shouldn’t use it; she simply hasn’t used it yet because she didn’t know what the word meant or how to place it in a sentence.

2. What about words I find repugnant — would I still mute those or would I allow them to play?  There are two occurrence of this that I can think of in Green Day songs in particular.  The first is “retarded” used in a derogatory manner.  I’ve always muted that because I don’t want it said around me.  Certainly not a curse word, but a word used in a repugnant manner.  The other is “fag.”  It’s used self-descriptively: the singer is using it to highlight what he has been called in the past (vs. using the term towards another person in a derogatory manner) but it’s a word that I don’t want around me.  That I think of as a hateful term even when it’s used tongue-in-cheek.  Interestingly, the ChickieNob asked if I would still mute those since she knows that there are times that I’m muting not because it’s a curse word but because it’s a hate word.  So do I continue to mute those?  Or do I allow everything to be heard?

See, good questions.

15 comments

1 LC { 12.13.12 at 8:42 am }

These are wonderful questions and I love that she thought of them so quickly.

I think the first question provides a very good reason for listening to, um, problematic songs without muting. Especially now that they’re old enough to (and obviously do) understand both the word and its meaning.

I think the second question is a great starting point for a non-driving conversation about words. I think I’d probably still mute the words, but have a conversation with them about why you’re muting them. She’s obviously caught on that you mute some words that aren’t curse words. This is a great teaching moment about how the acceptability and meaning of words can change over time.

2 Chickenpig { 12.13.12 at 8:47 am }

Your children are wise beyond their years.

Kids can’t use the word sexy? How weird. My mother always used the test if it was a word that we would feel embarrassed to say in front of our grandparents, then it was something we shouldn’t say at school. I have found that this still works, including the hate words. Along with “if you can’s say something nice, say nothing at all” works great. Your daughter already knows not to say something if she doesn’t know what it means. Very wise, indeed, and smart :)

I think that if you feel like muting words because they bother you that is your right as a person and a parent. You could ask your kids if there are particular words that bother them too and you could mute them as well. It could even be a word like “brown”. I have learned to skip through certain tunes because my son can’t tolerate certain chord progressions or harmonies. We’ve all got our own personal comfort zones, right?

3 manymanymoons { 12.13.12 at 9:30 am }

Why is it that whenever I read a post involving your kids I always leave knowing that they are definitely smarter than me? I don’t have answers to the questions posed, but just wanted to thank you for bringing up the conversation as I plan to hopefully learn from everyone else’s experience and apply it to my own life.

4 Gail { 12.13.12 at 9:46 am }

I say play everything with no muting. I’d rather have kids hear things and be able to ask questions at home with parents than hear it from another kid at school and have to learn about it from them (and possibly learn the wrong definition). Obviously, this needs to happen in small doses and when the kids are old enough to handle it it, but I think your kids have demonstrated their ability to deal with the situation.

5 a { 12.13.12 at 11:05 am }

My problem with the word sexy is not that the word is inappropriate…it’s that it’s not an appropriate word to apply to a child (it gets questionable in those pre-adult teenage years, but for early teens and tweens and younger…just, NO.) I guess I don’t like the dilution of meaning from “attractive in a sexual nature” to “pretty.” Basically, it’s all about semantics for me. :)

Anyway, your kids are pretty smart. We all have words we don’t like. If you choose to mute words because YOU don’t want to hear them, and you share your reasoning with your children, I don’t see a problem. I prefer generalized edicts that end with “BECAUSE I SAID SO!!!” myself. ;)

(Actually, we get into arguments in my house when my daughter asks for a definition of something and I give her 5 more complex synonyms before I can come up with an accessible definition. I don’t do it on purpose – I find it hard to specifically define words, due to my preference for precision. But anyway, it seems to irritate my husband that I’m giving her more words she doesn’t know. He thinks she’ll be confused. I think she’ll pick up the connections.)

6 a { 12.13.12 at 11:11 am }

It also occurs to me: You must have some damn fine reflexes – I couldn’t mute a part out of a song if I tried.

7 Queenie { 12.13.12 at 11:15 am }

See? They are ready for this. You’ve prepared them well.

8 k { 12.13.12 at 12:00 pm }

I agree the questions prove they are able to hear the songs unedited, but I also agree with Chickenpig – tell them you’re muting “fag” and “retarded” because YOU are offended by them, and are there words they would like you to mute because they are offended by them as well. Then it’s not censoring FOR them, but allowing them to make the choice of what is acceptable for themselves.

Smart kiddos you’ve got. The apples apparently don’t fall too far, do they?

9 lifeintheshwa { 12.13.12 at 12:09 pm }

1) you can always come to mum or dad to ask if a word is ok to use before using it.

2) I can understand why you find this one harder, I do too! We often talk about words that make those around us uncomfortable – I don’t say those words because they make me uncomfortable and they are inappropriate for reasons that I have no doubt they would understand.

10 Mud Hut Mama { 12.13.12 at 1:29 pm }

I love hearing what ChickieNob comes up with – she sounds like such a wise little soul.

11 Michele { 12.13.12 at 2:24 pm }

Given my kids are much younger, but we dont bleep out anything. When a word (once, I think) was said that was inappropriate, I just said that it was inappropriate and Maya has yet to say it again. They dont hear a lot of cursing or anything, but the way I was brought up (by two artists) was with nudty because natural (but, like you said, that doesnt make stripping in public appropriate!) and with language being just language. We learned what to say and what not to, but nothing was ever BAD. (OF course, this could be why I have a potty mouth at times…) :)

12 Stupid Stork { 12.13.12 at 4:01 pm }

Wow that first point she makes is kind of a stumper.. NO idea how to deal with that one.

Thought I’d throw in I have a bit of a potty mouth (sometimes they’re just the 100% perfect adjectives, curse words) and I grew up in a house where no one ever-ever cursed.

As for the offensive words… Yeah. I think I’d be okay with my kids being aware of curse words and I love how you explained the difference between art and regular life (LOVE it, and totally going to steal it). Maybe explain the difference between inappropriate words like curse words, and hateful words like retarded, fag, racial slurs. One is okay when used in art, you can use them if you’re an adult in appropriate situations, the other is never okay for anyone to use under any circumstances.

13 Battynurse { 12.13.12 at 6:44 pm }

Your kids and the questions they ask blow me away. Maybe since even though I was told as a child it was ok to ask questions I also knew that the allowance only went so far. I’m always so impressed with parents who have a much better outlook and technique than what my mom managed (and really I’d say a good 80-90% fall in that category.)

14 KeAnne { 12.13.12 at 8:47 pm }

I love your kids and their super-smart questions! Um…I’d play the words but remind them that some words are unacceptable to you and why. I’m not a fan of expurgated anything.

15 Justine { 12.14.12 at 3:35 am }

I think you play everything … it’s sort of like Carlin says … why choose THOSE words? Why censor some and not others?

I think your kids are brilliant. They already know when they don’t know how to use a word. So that will be a good barometer for them; maybe the rule of thumb is not to use words themselves that they can’t define. And they’re going to be bold enough to ask you what they mean, so you can talk about why (not) to us it when the word comes up: age appropriateness, topics that are OK for school conversation, etc. They will have a richer understanding of “difficult” words because of it.

And maybe for a while you SAY “mute” but let the word be heard, so they know which words you’re finding objectionable, and can start conversations about those? Pain in the neck, but at least they’re not going from nothing.

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