I've never liked swear words. They always seemed so profane and offensive to me.
Maybe that's because they're meant to be.
Christina Nystrom Mantha
Last Wednesday morning my son and I sat outside of Noah's (the regular meeting time and place for middle- and high-schoolers). I didn't intend to do "research" for this piece. But I was shocked that literally every single kid that walked by us used profanity. And these are mostly kids that know me from school, sports or socializing with their parents.
After about a dozen kids walked by I saw one young lady, who I knew as a kindergartner. I like her a lot. I was relieved because I thought "Finally, a kid who won't throw around potty mouth." Nope. Before I finished my thought, she swore in place of the word "things."
The intent of profanity is to get someone's attention -- to convey extreme contempt. If it's used as regularly as the word "things," does it still hold a strong meaning?
I've always believed that I don't need to swear because my vocabulary is large enough to convey my thoughts without intentionally offending people with contemptuous language. What I know now is that profanity isn't necessarily used because we don't know the right words, it's used because we lack the emotional control and patience to find words that aren't offensive.
We are used to immediate gratification and attention -- immediate response to commands we give our phone, immediate response to texts we send, immediate "likes" or comments to what we post on social media. We don't know how to take a breath anymore. We don't know how to allow our emotional middle brain to relax so our logical prefrontal cortex can take over.
The use of profanity is pervasive. I have heard older men, businesspeople, coaches, moms, teenagers and younger kids liberally throw around words that could be substituted with "things," "stinks," "ridiculous" and "stupid."
Children hear adults use profanity and reasonably think it's OK for them to also. Are we OK with that?
And if so, at what age do we find profanity acceptable coming out of a child's mouth? Is it when they are in middle school (age 11)? Or maybe it's OK for fourth-graders (age 9) but not for second-graders (age 7)? Maybe once a child starts school at age 5, they can mimic how their parents talk in their company?
I do swear once in awhile -- maybe every other month. But I assure you, when I swear, whomever I am talking to takes notice. They know I am riled up. They know that what I'm saying is meant to be said strongly, and my intent is to be abusive or contemptuous.
I don't advocate omitting profanity from our vocabulary. But I do think it's worth being mindful of how often we use "bad words" and what it says about our ability to take a breath, slow down, and, most importantly, teach our children to do the same.