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Kids and profanity

What’s your 3 year old’s favorite song?  Twinkle Twinkle Little StarB-I-N-G-O? Get Ready to Wiggle?  Here’s how my 3yo’s favorite song goes:

Let’s have some fun, this beat is sick
I wanna take a ride on your disco stick
Don’t think too much just bust that kick
I wanna take a ride on your disco stick

And that “kick’ in there – well, let’s just say I thought it was another _ick word until I looked up the lyrics on line.  I think that might be, shall we say, a charitable interpretation of the lyric.

My 8yo knows most swear words too.  (Yes, even “the most foul of foul words.“)  I really don’t see a problem with children knowing about profanity, as such.  Frankly, the song lyrics sail right over their heads, and now that the older one is finally twigging to the subtext of 80% of pop radio, she’s rejecting the racier stuff on her own.  Here’s a recent conversation we had when Pitbull’s Give Me Everything came on:

Chloe: I don’t like this song, can you change it?
Me: Sure, why don’t you like it?
Chloe: Because I know what he means when he says “Give me everything.”
Me: OK, but you realize most of the songs on the radio are about sex in some way, right?
Chloe: Yeah, I just don’t like that one.

She also knows it’s not appropriate for her to sing half of Last Friday Night and all of S&M, though she hasn’t asked for details about why exactly.  So I suppose that’s where my line is as far as bawdy songs and my children: OK to listen, not OK to sing.  And I will explain why they’re not OK to sing, if asked, but I try not to get more detailed than they’re interested in.  For now, “That’s an adult thing and not appropriate for children to sing” is all they want to know.

As far as the swearing thing – I explain the words as they come up, and once Chloe was mature enough to censor herself by situation, I told her she could say them.  On rare occasions she’ll say “damn it” or something at home, but has been very good about not cursing in front of friends or at school.  And really, that skill is what all kids eventually learn.  A 13yo is most likely not abstaining from swearing, even if his parents have forbidden it and never hear anything stronger than “crud” pass his lips – he’s just learned not to swear in front of his parents, as well as teachers, church leaders, etc.

The 3yo, on the other hand has no censoring skills yet, so if she busts out with a profanity, I inform her that it’s a rude word, and she shouldn’t say it.  Of course I also censor myself more around her, because they are like little recording machines, and no matter how much you discourage it, if you say “Damn it!” every time you drop something, your preschooler will do it too, as I learned the first time around!  (And god damn, is it adorable to hear a 2yo say “damn it” in that perfect annoyed intonation, so you have to stifle your laughter while delivering a stern lesson about appropriate language.)

Sometimes the song lyrics do give me pause, and I wonder if it’s OK to let my kids listen to the pop station, even the one that censors out Nicki Minaj saying the euphemistic “eff.”  But then I remember that I grew up listening to top 40, and singing along with such hits as Afternoon Delight with all the blithe naivete of a Bluth at a Christmas party.  I was OK, and my kids will be too.

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About Christine

I'm a full-time mother to two kids, an ex-lawyer, a breastfeeding counselor, a skeptic, and (to steal a phase from Penn & Teller) a "science cheerleader." You can reach me through my Facebook page.

Posted on January 30, 2012, in Parenting and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. So far my 8 year old daughter doesn’t seem to know what the lyrics in S&M actually are. I try not to sing them out clearly when she’s around! It’ll be interesting when she finds out.
    I let her listen to 93.9 but I, too, sometimes wonder if this is OK, but as you say, I listened to similar stuff when younger too. My attitude about cursing is similar to yours, we talk about the words and why or when they are appropriate/inappropriate. I alse tell her how other people may judge her if she uses words like that. However, our most interesting conversations are about why such words are “bad”. We talk about why people would label some words bad and others not, especially when most people use such words.

  2. found your blog through a friend (who I met through my UU church) sending me your Nursing in Public advice thing, came here to try to find a way to link to it for others (she sent the graphic as an email attachment… *I* think it would make a wonderful baby shower card, or pamphlets to hand over when someone gives the evil eye to a nursing mom maybe complete with the state’s law protecting breastfeeding in public… but I digress..)

    Anyway… what we call those little recording machines in our house (we have three boys, ages 7, 4, and 20mo) are “featherless parrots”. My 2nd son at one point I caught following me around while I was searching for something, when he was maybe 2 years old, saying “dammit dammit dammit” with every step…. then I realized I had been saying that myself. Yeah…. mamacensorfail.

    And my husband is a high school teacher, which tends to bring on the f-bombs as he walks through the door some days when his students have done something particularly annoying… which gets the yell “FEATHERLESS PARROTS!!!” from me in response, instead of “hello, dear, how was you’re day?”

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