It’s true that I have never given my son a curfew. And we don’t actually have any household rules. Plus I don’t give a shit about swearing and if he tells me to fuck off I don’t blink an eye. I tell him the same thing sometimes.

For example:

Me & The Boy in the car

The Boy: I can’t believe we have to go swimming for gym again tomorrow. I hate it!

Kerri: What’s so bad about it?

The Boy: It’s hard! She makes us do 2 laps with the kick board in front of us on our stomachs, then 2 laps on our backs with the kick board above our heads, and then 2 laps of front crawl after that, then 2 laps of this drill. And I’m EXHAUSTED by then!

Kerri: So you think swimming is a lot of work? Now you know how tough I am! [I’m bragging here actually]

The Boy: Whatever.

Kerri: I swim 100 laps a few times a week and you can barely do 6?

The Boy: Fuck off.

Kerri: (laughing) All right. Sorry for rubbing it in. [I realize I had it coming; I wasn’t super empathetic]

At the dirt jumps. The Boy and lots of other teen boys are there.

The Boy: Why don’t you just ride the line straight? It’s way harder to transfer in the way you’re doing it.

Kerri: I’m too scared of the first jump; I don’t like the lip on it.

The Boy: Well you’re doing it the hard way you know!

Kerri: I’m doing it my way.

The Boy: But if you can transfer in you can obviously clear it. Just do it!

Kerri: Fuck off. I’ll do it when I’m ready.

The Boy: Fine.

Swearing is a big deal to some people but I don’t really get that. They’re just words. What matters is the connection you have with the person and the actual intention underneath the words. I think if someone demands that another person not swear that is a power trip. That’s somebody laying down some kind of law. And who has the right to tell another person what words they can or cannot speak?

I think what’s really going on when a parent tells their kid “no swearing” is that the parent is worried about how THEY will be perceived and how THEIR parenting will be thought about or talked about if someone outside the family hears their young person talking with a potty mouth. So it’s about the parent and the parent’s feelings. Don’t kid yourself that it has anything to do with the kid.

For other parents I think it does truly hurt their feelings if their kid swears at them. For those parents it seems to really be like a sharp arrow has pierced their skin and the sting is real. The most authentic response in this situation would be an expression of pain like, “Ouch! That really stung!” That’s a way more honest response than saying, “Show a little respect!” or “Watch your mouth!” Because what are you really saying with this kind of response? You’re saying ‘toe the line’ or ‘act the way I want you to’. Would you ever treat another adult that way? Demanding they act in a certain manner that is pleasing to you? Of course not. And there is no excuse for acting that way with a child or teenager. Additionally, you are essentially lying to your kid or hiding the truth if you don’t indicate to them the effect their words have had on you.

Kids are obviously still learning and growing (who isn’t?) and there’s also the fact that their frontal lobes won’t finish developing until they are in their twenties, so we have to remember that they probably won’t display the most elegant rational thinking at all times. But we have to cut them a little slack here! If we actually want to teach them the consequences of their behaviour then we have to demonstrate those consequences to them. Like this, for example:

Teen: I forgot my damn textbook at school again! I fucking hate that!

Parent: Ouch! That harsh language hurts my ears.

Teen: What’s wrong with you? They’re just words; get over it.

Parent: I worry that other people might hear you talking like that and they’ll think you’re a no-good punk with crappy parents.

Teen: That’s dumb. Who cares what other people think? You’re always telling me not to care about what everyone else is doing or wearing.

Parent: You’re right. I get a little uptight about wanting to be seen in a good light. I want others to like me.

Teen: Who doesn’t?

This parent is taking responsibility for his or her own personal emotional reaction and the conversation turns into a meeting of minds where the two of them are discussing something really important about life – worrying about what others think of us and how to deal with it. This parent is not pinning the responsibility for their comfort on their teen. It’s not the job of our teens to make us comfortable! Their job is to figure out what’s important to them, what they’re interested in, what they like doing, who they like being with, and figuring out how they fit in the world. Making their parents feel good about themselves is not a biological part of growing up.

If I don’t want you to swear because I’m worried I’ll be seen as a deficient parent if other adults knew that I ‘let’ you swear, or because it hurts my feelings, or I feel attacked when you swear at me ALL of that is about ME. It has everything to do with MY needs, MY fears, and MY desires. It’s just plain irresponsible for me to pretend that my kid’s swearing is his problem when it is clearly mine.

Was there swearing in the house where you grew up? Is there swearing in your house now? How do you feel about it? I would love to read your comments below!

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