@#$%! Language

Tips on Teens #009

Kids these days… the way they talk. I tell ya, they got no respect. I never spoke that way when I was a kid.  My parents would have smacked me into next Tuesday. Teenagers are so disrespectful nowadays. These @#$%! kids, what are ya gonna do?

Does this sound anything like you? Are you tired of your teen mouthing off and using bad language all the time? Or maybe just some of the time? It can be frustrating and quite unnerving to have your once sweet-innocent child (who it seems only yesterday was still completely enraptured by Elmo and Pooh Bear) now sounds like a drunken sailor on shore leave!

Why does my teenager need to use such awful language?

Another term used for bad language is Adult Language. Yes, that’s right.  Your teenager is on his way to learning how to be an adult and defining his identity. An easy way to do that and to feel independent and mature is to use words that only adults are allowed to speak.

Bad Words also carry a great deal of power. They are provocative and they grab the attention of others… especially parents! These words are filled with passion and emotion… particularly when you just start to use them. Hence the first time your kid starts swearing around you, the shock and horror that you experience before you begin your righteous diatribe gives him the motivation to do it again. Just like a puppeteer, whenever he says those nasty Four-Letter Words you jump into action; and while he may not enjoy being yelled at, he does relish the power of making you lose composure… and that power is worth all the yelling in the world.  

teen isolated on island to protect from bad language

Where did my sweet child learn this reprehensible vocabulary?

The better question may be: “Where DOESN’T she learn it?”  Junky Jargon is in abundant amounts throughout our society. Wherever your teenager goes, she may be subject to hearing and learning the meanings of countless words and phrases that you might find distasteful. School, of course is the most obvious place for this exposure.  Taboo subjects and phrases seem exciting and cool, and when you are an insecure teenager desperate to be accepted by your peers, one way to fit in is to talk the same way everyone else does.  

The media is another great teacher for Lascivious Lingo. Whether it is the Internet (Especially the Internet!), television, movies, music, etc., there is plenty of adult content bombarding your teen to indoctrinate her into using her Potty-Mouth. After all, you can’t watch her all the time; nor is it realistic to think you can run across the room and rip the iPad out of her hands as if you were sliding into home plate every time you THINK she might be watching, listening to or reading something objectionable. There is only so much you can do to protect her from learning these words and aphorisms… and usually it isn’t enough.  

My mom likes to say, “I swore at home so when you were a kid you wouldn’t learn those words on the street.” It’s a funny joke (except when I was teenager… she was never funny when I was a teenager) but there is some truth to it. I have spoken to many adolescents whose parents get so frustrated with them because of their Dirty Mouths. However, when those same parents get angry, they swear just as much as the teenagers do… if not more!

Yes, we do live in a free country where adults have the right to freedom of speech and you have earned the right to say what ever you want… especially in your house where you make the rules. Please remember however, that the way you speak is setting the example for your children. The “Do as I say, not as I do!” mantra didn’t convince us when we were kids so it certainly won’t work on your children either.  

So what am I supposed to do to stop the expletives from pouring out of my kid’s mouth?

Focusing on stopping the use of Erroneous Expressions can be a dicey proposition. If there’s already some bitterness or a struggle to connect between the two of you, this could just fan the flames of acrimony for both of you. Resorting to shaming tactics and punishments that are intended to limit the use of Raunchy Rhetoric will only turn those phrases into weapons for your teen to use against you shortly thereafter. 

Aaauuugh! If I can’t punish him, then how will he ever learn to speak respectfully? 

Remember that big reactions, yelling and arguing are relatively ineffective. Taking away privileges or other attempts to coerce your kid to speak properly will also most likely be futile. Your teen won’t listen to a word you say. This Skuzzy Speech will become his battle cry and his main attack when he feels the need to really challenge you… and it will work every time! 

What do you mean by, “It will work every time?” How will her foul language “work” if it just gets her into more trouble?

Imagine this scenario… 

  • You tell your daughter that she has to get off the iPad, out of her room and walk the dog with you… you know, a little fresh air and a little less mindless screen-time.
  • There’s a little banter back and forth about how she doesn’t have time.
  • You say that’s the rule you both agreed upon.
  • In a huff she replies she’ll do it later. 
  • Sternly you say that’ll she’ll do it now, and then the explosion…. 
  • “You are so F*@!%ING unfair!  That’s such a stupid SH*%#Y F#!*ING rule!”

When your kid doesn’t agree with your limits or she bristles when she feels that you are meddling in her life, she’ll use these Woeful Words to distract you from the real issue at hand.  It may not always be a conscious decision on her part, but if you easily take the bait and overreact, the two of you will most likely get lost in a pointless argument around disrespect that will never bring about any resolution. During this heated argument about her language you are using a lot of energy that was meant to be focused on something else. You’re still not talking about her locking herself in her room everyday and avoiding the family (the real issue at hand), which is what you really wanted to talk about… but she didn’t. Voila! She wins this battle and you both lose the war! HELLO to pointless argument about bad language.  GOODBYE to discussion about becoming an active member of the family again. By the way, why would she possibly want to come out of her room if you’re just going to “pick on her” about her language anyways?

But my kid has got to adhere to decent language around us. He can’t go through life talking as if he lives in a Judd Apatow movie! 

Demanding his blind obedience when he doesn’t agree with the rule will just motivate him to provoke and distract you with his words even more. You cannot force him to understand the importance of adult social skills through lecture or coercion. How effective is it when your boss lectures you? Does it make you feel eager to please? How connected do you feel to someone who forces you into doing something you don’t really want to do?

An alternative is to focus more on the meaning of the words and the intent of the speech that he is using. Often, teens don’t fully understand the meaning or the history of the Ugly Utterances they use… adults often don’t either for that matter. Exploring this from a place of respect and curiosity may create an avenue for both of you to discover what your teen is really trying to say. Do his Vicious Verbalizations really match the intent of his true feelings? Maybe the language he is using is the only way he knows how to release his anger. Therefore, dealing with his emotion is the more direct approach. You’ll get much farther with connecting to his feelings than trying to squash his words.

In the big picture, language is the way we communicate to each other.  Just because you don’t like the type of language he chooses doesn’t mean you should overlook the opportunity to find out WHAT he is communicating. Taking the stigma and shame out of the words allows for a real conversation between the two of you and in time a better understanding of each other. In other words, do you want your teen to blindly follow a rule that he doesn’t fully understand or agree with, or would you rather that he gain a deeper comprehension of his intention and how he affects others with his words?

So, are you really suggesting that I allow my kid to talk in that disgusting way?

It’s not about allowing or disallowing. The point of all this is to diminish the power of Putrid Parlance so it is less appealing to use and not used as a means to hurt others. If you don’t REACT to the Bad Words, then you can RESPOND to the intent of her words instead. 

When your teen does come across as belligerent, checking in with her emotionally and trying to be supportive may help her feel more safe to open up and really let you in about what’s truly bothering her. Perhaps she needs time to cool off and gather her thoughts before she can have that thoughtful conversation with you. If so, give her some space to do so. Once she’s in a more grounded place, connecting with her and giving her support may create the opportunity to explore the vulnerable feelings underneath all that anger… that’s where the healing really takes place. Once she’s gotten all the important stuff off of her chest and she’s feeling accepted and supported by you, having the respectful discussion around her choice of words can be very eye opening. She’ll be more open to listening to your perceptions and your concerns around that type of language. Together, you will both be able to create more acceptable alternatives to express her big emotions.

Now remember, when I say important stuff you have to keep in mind that what is important to her may not seem like a big deal to you. Don’t trivialize it. Treat it as important as she does. Otherwise, the response you’ll mostly get when you do attempt to connect with her will be, “You don’t F*#%ING understand me!” She is experiencing life, just like you, but she is wwaaaayyyy behind you in years of life experience and wisdom. She’s more likely to consider your guidance if she feels respected by you.

My teen doesn’t just use that foul language when he’s angry; his everyday speech is peppered with it. The derogatory terms he uses to describe other people is appalling!

While some teens appear to be mature beyond their years and take a keen interest in cultural awareness and social justice, just as many if not more teenagers are completely oblivious to the weight and history of certain phrases. Many derogatory sayings that shame others for the way the look, their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, economic class, their profession, along with many other categories have deep seated and ugly histories. These words are dreadfully powerful because of their histories and our perceptions of them.

So imagine a fourteen-year-old white boy who throws around words like, nigger, fag, whore, kike or Dirty Mexican as if he were listing off baseball statistics. He has no real understanding of what those words have meant in our society throughout history or what it is to be so labeled. He cannot fathom what it was like to be an African American throughout history, or the identity struggle that a homosexual person must face in an unaccepting world, or society’s hypocritical pressures that young women get for having sexual feelings, etc. Most kids have no clue how hard life is to have your name attached to a label.

The way to deal with this is not through shame or admonishment… again that only makes those words more interesting. Take the time together to curiously and considerately research what those terms actually mean and where they come from. You may be surprised how much those eye-opening learning opportunities lead to a larger view of the world and perhaps a more developed sense of empathy for others.

I’m sure you would agree with me when I say our world is in desperate need of more empathic people. Applying their interest in using these derogatory labels to figure out their history is definitely one way you could teach empathy. It will probably be the best social studies lesson he has all year!

But my kid IS            FILL IN THE BLANK              (African American, Jewish, Hispanic, Chinese, etc).  She should know better!

Start with a personal history lesson. Take the derogatory term she is using towards that specific race and explore it. Use your own family history as the guide.  Then to tie it all together, make sure to let her know that all races and all cultures have experienced the same sort of degradation at one time or another.

Let’s keep in mind that these are language choices she is making. Operative word here is: CHOICES. It feels good to a teenager to be able to make choices and exercise her independence. It makes her feel grown up to choose what outfit she’s going to wear that day, what elective she selects for her school schedule, and what word choices she will use. Gently guiding her towards making smarter choices, conscious choices, BETTER choices is your job as the parent.

In other words, you naturally would help your daughter to understand that choosing to wear her favorite summer dress when it’s 51 degrees outside might not be a great idea. You help your son to understand that choosing to have a zero period starting at 6:48am just because all of his friends are in it, even though he can’t seem to get to bed before midnight might not be the best idea.  You also need to help your child understand the amount of consideration that must be put into what language she is choosing to use.

My son seems to know that he can’t swear around me or other adults. Around his friends? That’s a whole other matter! Can I stop him from cussing with them?

You may want to overlook how he talks to his friends and peers. As much as you don’t like it, Sour Slang is an accepted way to communicate among kids. Don’t expect to ever get total control over this issue with your teen. If he can successfully understand where and when it is objectionable to speak inappropriately and regulate himself (e.g. not swearing in front of adults or young children), then this may not be a problem that needs fixing. He already knows how and when to turn this on and off.

I try staying calm and talking to my teen about communicating more respectfully. I am already trying to do everything you’re suggesting. It only seems to provoke him more! What should I do?

If you find that your teen just won’t cooperate, it may be a sign that there is a rift in your relationship that needs to be mended. If so, I strongly encourage you to reach out to your teen and find ways to reconnect and build some much needed mutual trust. Start slow because it will take time to rebuild. The defiance and the habitually belligerent cussing are not the causes of the problem… they are symptoms of something greater. Perhaps there is too much anger, confusion, or identity struggles going on inside to allow her to care about your attempts of communication.  It’s like those old Peanuts cartoons when the adults talk. You remember?  Your kid hears sound coming out of your mouth but doesn’t hear any words that you’re saying. Perhaps consulting with a family counselor or your local religious leader who understands healthy parenting strategies AND can also connect well with teenagers will help to bridge the gap between the two of you. A healthy relationship based on reciprocated trust between you and your teenager will help you both to resolve any conflict or breakdown in communication. The sooner you get that ball rolling, the healthier and happier your whole family will be. 

(updated article from July 2007)

Remember that adolescence is a temporary mental disorder and will pass within a few years.

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