Should we “allow” our children to curse in front of us?

Should parents let their children curse?  I saw a blog post recently posted by a dad that lets his child swear in front of him and he explained why.  He wants to provide a “safe” place for his child so that he feels he can say anything to his dad.  He calls this the bubble.

The post was interesting and I agreed with some things, but I also felt that there was another (important) part of the story missing without which the purpose of the bubble is lost.

Here is where I agree.  I, too, want my children to be able to talk to me about anything.  When they have questions, I want them to be able to ask.  When they have done something bad, I want them to counsel with me.  When they have big decisions to make, I want to know what they’re thinking and ask for advice.  There are guaranteed ways to make sure they never talk to me about anything.  I think one of those ways is to assume that we as parents somehow have control of our children’s lives.  That we can will them into submission by yelling, lecturing, or punishing.  (Don’t get me wrong, i regrettably do all three… )  But, where we as parents are most effective is when we persuade our children – and persuade them to do good.  This is the second half of that article that I felt was missing.

What is the point of having a bubble where our children talk to us, if we do not give them sound advice to do good and be good.    Whether we like it or not, our children already have “safe” places where they feel they can do and say whatever they want.    These safe places can be with their friends, wild uncles, and locker rooms.

And from these “safe” places, they will receive an earful of advice.  If memory serves, I don’t remember the advice that I received from other adolescent peers on a variety of subjects as “sound advice” leading to great outcomes.  They usually end with a phrase, “You only live once!”   Whether it’s about drugs, sexual activity, entertainment, gambling, etc…  The advice is often one that leads to trouble, heartache, embarrassment, or poverty.  

This is where parents are different.  Or at least _should_ be different.  Because we love our children.  Not like friends love friends.  But as only a mom or dad could love their son or daughter.  We would die for them if need be.  We live for them.  We want them to be happy and successful in their endeavors.  As parents, we want our kids to make investments into their lives.  We want them to have fun, but not at the expense of closing doors to opportunities in the future.  

So, yes – I want a relationship with my children where they can talk to me about anything.  But, when they talk to me, they will know that there is judgment.  Not the kind of judgment where they feel belittled, ashamed, or unworthy.  But, judgment about the issue at hand.  Sometimes this will include regrets I have from my own life.  Sometimes, it will be practices and decisions that I believe have had positive affect in my life.  From me, they can expect that I will always give them my best advice because I love them and want them to have lasting happiness.   Because they know this type of advice is consistently what I have to offer, sometimes they might even know what I’ll say before they talk to me.  This might cause some discomfort because perhaps this might conflict with what they want.  But, deep inside, they will always know that I want the absolute best for them.  And when they are about to go against my counsel, they will pause to ask themselves, “Am I really doing the right thing?”  Now, I’m not always right – and sometimes they should blaze their own path, but taking a moment to consider important decisions is never bad.  And I hope they do this whether I am next to them, or whether they are at a raging party surrounded by all kinds of temptation. 

The measure of our parenting abilities is not what they do or not do in front of us, but what they do or not do when they are on their own.  Have we convinced them , persuaded them to live with values and virtues that will lead them to joy that endures? 

I’m not writing this as an expert to say that I’ve done these things.  (My kids aren’t even teenagers, yet)  I’m just throwing out an alternative metric to “having a safe place” as  a goal for parenting.  I think the goal is more than that.  Through the “safe place” and my influence, do my children “make good decisions on their own?”  Do they believe I love them and will they consider my guidance?

So, do I let my kids curse in front of me?  I’m not so sure that matters so much.  I have definitely talked to both of my boys about curse words and what they mean, although rarely are curse words used to express their proper definition.  I have explained that we should be articulate.  We should be able to express how we feel.  We should be able to give and get what we want with words.  And often people use curse words as simple substitutes for feelings they don’t know how to express.  I also believe cursing leaves a negative impression upon the company that you are with.  This is why I don’t use “Grown up words” (even though I’m presumably a “Grown up”.)  The real question is, did I convince my kids?  When I’m not around, do they curse? 

To be honest, I’m not nearly as concerned about cursing as I am about treating people with respect, honesty, good sportsmanship, charity, and using good judgment.  Not saying a few taboo words is easy compared to practicing some of these other virtues.  It’s my belief that the pursuit of lasting happiness is not easy and it takes a lifetime of service and sacrifice.  These are not easy things to convince children, nevertheless teenagers.  But – you only live once.

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