Humor Parenting

Lessons On 'Tween-Age Swearing

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Figuring out the rules about swearing can be confusing for ‘tweens. Up until about middle school, most parents teach their children not to use “bad words,” or at least try to discourage the use of profanity. But suddenly, around the end of 5th grade, kids start trying out their new understanding of these “naughty” words and begin to throw around a little language designed to shock teachers and impress peers.

My son tends to be a rule following type of guy. As an only child, he isn’t used to hearing the “s-word” or the “f-bomb” thrown around by older siblings. And frankly, hubby and I try to keep it clean when he is around. For a while, our son was expressing some anxiety when he heard his friends swearing, and he admitted that he was trying to rehabilitate his friends on the playground.

He said casually, “I told them, ‘Instead of saying ‘What an ass,’ I suggested they say, ‘What an asp.’”

Oh. My Gosh. He’s trying to fix his friends? I freaked out a little, picturing my child getting his “asp” kicked after receiving a super-atomic wedgie.

Hubby said, “Listen, I understand that you don’t like to swear, but it’s important that you worry about your own actions and behaviors and that you don’t police your friends. Let the teachers handle that. Kids who make bad choices eventually get in trouble.”

My husband and I tried to explain to our ‘tween that there are different types of swearing –- that there is a kind of subtext to each — and that he would need to understand them all. Mind you, we were not encouraging our son to swear, we just wanted him to understand it is not his job to police his friends as they try out the new words in their lexicon.

Here’s how we broke it down:

photo by meddygarnet @

1. The Frustrated Swear. You get to school and realize you’ve forgotten your math textbook at home. “In cases like this, someone may exclaim, ‘Oh shit!’” we explained, “It’s like a giant ‘Omigosh’ where you are talking to yourself more than to anyone else.”

2. The Filler Word. You say something funny or unbelievable, and your friend says, “You’ve gotta be shitting me!” Used in this context, the swear word is kind of a compliment. It like a giant, “No way! That’s awesome!” we explained. “It means you’ve impressed someone.” No harm, no foul. No one gets hurt.

3. The Whispered Swear. This one, we explained, is trickier. You could be in school, listening to a presentation when someone leans over to you and says something quietly behind a cupped hand: “I wish she was shut up with this stupid shit.” This one, we continued, depends on who is saying it and how it is being said. If you are both bored to tears, it can be camaraderie building. You share a quick little nod or smile, and it’s over. But if someone you don’t know well says this to you, they may be trying to get you into trouble, by getting you to respond with a comment or a more obvious kind of disobedience. We told our child he’d have to use careful judgment there.

4. The Threatening Swear. Again, this one can be confusing, as it is all about the people involved, the tone and demeanor. If a kid says, “You are a stupid piece of shit!” to another kid, it is up to the recipient of the comment to decide how to react. If the comment comes complete with a finger-poke to the chest – the recipient of the comment may feel the need to minimize contact with the chest poker, potentially tell an adult, particularly if there has been a history of bullying between the two. But if two good friends say the same comment and they are playfully giggling, it is probably safe to assume that it is not a threatening situation.

“Bottom line,” my husband said, “We don’t want to ever hear that you have been heard swearing in front of any adults. No teachers. Coaches. Friends’ parents. Or mom and me. Ever. Got it?” Hubby asked.

Child nodded.

Twenty-four hours passed and our family attended a fabulous gathering with a friends whom we hadn’t seen in a long time. The air was warm, the kids were getting along perfectly; the grass was emerald-green. The food was piled high and everything is delicious.

Suddenly, our friend (and former neighbor), Steve, came over and said, “Wow! Your son has quite a mouth on him.”

Hubby and I weren’t sure where he was going with this.

“He just told me I have a fly on my dick.”

“What?!” Hubby and I asked in stereo.

Within five seconds, we had our child cornered under a tree for questioning.

“What did you just say to Mr. L?” I asked.

Without hesitation, Monkey confessed. “I told him he had a fly on his dick.”

“Are you kidding me?” Hubby looked up at the sky. “What did we just talk about?”

“What?” asks our son. “Dick isn’t a swear.” (Insert a long, confused pause here.) “Daddy goes to Dick’s all the time!”

“Dick’s, the retail sporting goods store, is not a swear,” I agreed. “It’s a place to buy golf balls and baseball pants and sneakers. Dick can also be a person’s name, and that’s not a swear word, either. But if you are talking about private body parts or what private body parts do, well . . . that’s not appropriate.”

(Call me a terrible parent, but it was soooo hard not to laugh.)

Our child looked embarrassed and completely baffled.

“Look,” Hubby said, “You’re going to figure it out.”

Boy looked doubtful.

I have every confidence that my child will figure out the swearing thing.

I am bracing for that day.


How do you teach your kids about swearing? Or do you just let them say whatever they want?

31 thoughts on “Lessons On 'Tween-Age Swearing

  1. This is too funny – we are definitely on the same page, I haven’t posted in over a week and was thinking about this topic. Thoroughly enjoyed your examples!

  2. Well, ya got your basic bullshit which is about lying. Horse shit is nonsense. Owl shit comes from upper level management. Dog shit is from nefarious people. Chicken shit is insignificant. Camel shit is what terrorists make bombs out of. Ape shit is the screaming of crazy people (or your supervisor). Monkey shit is childish stuff and Holy Shit is not from Heaven, it’s stuff of a not too comfortable nature. Your shit gets in my way and my shit don’t stink. Will allow you to speculate on what Washington shit is. Old shit is often better than new shit. Shitless means cowardly. Oh, you already knew this? No shit?

  3. Awesome. Our new one is a song by the All American rejects….”Gives you hell.” Our youngest daughter loves it. Our eldest can not get past the bad word. I almost said ‘It’s not one of Carlin’s words,” but I resorted to “if its on the radio it’s not a swear…” Maybe not the best choice of words!

  4. Hmm….Let’s take that word swearing. It can have many meanings. “To state under oath, take an oath, vouch avow, bind oneself by oath, certify warrant, bear witness, attest adjure, pledge oneself, aver, assert, promise, curse, cuss, use profanity, utter oaths and blaspheme.” I must admit your blog made me chuckle. I must admit your son got you!

  5. So funny! I was raised with this rule of thumb…Never curse AT anyone (Kiss my Ass! Blow Me! Eat Shit! Fuck Off!) but cursing yourself is perfectly acceptable: (I’m fuckin’ dumb, Shit on me, What an asshole move I just made… ).

  6. Swearing is definitely a tricky thing. I’m in the military and am typically assigned to aviation units. “Shit” is not a swear word. It’s a necessity. Get your shit together. Hang on a second while I get my shit. Wow, this shit is key. It can also be a bad thing, like when we’re flying and the weather turns to shit in a heartbeat. “Fucked up” is also not a swear word. It is a medical diagnosis. In one instance, I was caring for a gung-ho Soldier with a knee injury. After being told I would not allow him to run, he started asking about every other activity known to man (backpacking, soccer, basketball, softball). Finally, I put the diagnosis in terms he could understand. “Dude, your knee’s fucked up. NO you can’t do those things!” Suddenly, he got it.

  7. Renee, this was some of the funniest shit I’ve ever read! As the mom of three girls, I think there is a double standard. Sorry people, but it isn’t ladylike to swear.

    I tell my girls that many people choose to swear, but on the whole, swearing is not a sign of great intelligence (can you believe this crap?). That there are beautiful expressive words in our vocabulary–anyone can swear, but it shows great consideration and brains to choose a more eloquent and appropriate response. Intelligence is power–that’s what I tell them. That, and holding themselves to a higher standard.

    I have been known, on the sly, to educate my older girls on the vernacular, so they are not caught completely dumbfounded in public. It’s a mother’s job, afterall, to prepare her children to go out in this world. Dammit.

  8. Holy Shit! I have never heard the word “shit” thrown around so much in my life! There should be a “ta da da” after ever comment…I personally LOVE to swear. I have a truck driver’s mouth…There is no other word, that can bring as much shazam to a statement like the F word! The ffff and the kkkkk are amazing together! I have learned to skillfully turn it on and off though, and that’s where the mastery comes in. My kids have heard it all, especially when they are driving in the car. I’ve given them a lot of the advice you gave your son, and for the most part it’s worked. My youngest gets creative, shizzle, shiz, fritz etc… My 16yr old works it in ever once and awhile, then apologizes…the 17 yr old doesn’t swear at all. The 20 yr old just found his swearing voice and feels he can share that with his parents freely, now that he’s an adult. The 23 yr old is a trash talker! Your Monkey will figure it out. Great advice and even funnier story!

  9. This is only the beginning RASJ. Dick is easy. The F-bomb? The S-Word? Those are obvious. Just wait until you have to explain why he shouldn’t use words and phrases like bush, box, balls, head, back door, jerk, cherry, cream, poke, donkey, flap jacks, mud flaps, camel, finger, gray hound, load, motorboat, trim, oyster, pearl necklace, pattycake, ram, rim, cowgirl, red wings, shrimping, snowball, stranger, teabag, tool, salad tossing, wake up call, wood, etc.

    Or until you have to try to figure out the new slang terms (think Skeet or FUPA, etc).

    Yeah, you’re pretty much f*cked.

  10. I am trying to teach tween son that even though technically “crap” is not a swear word, it’s not quite appropriate to use in front of adults.

    On the other hand, i really learned my lesson from my daughter — and learned to clean up my own language mighty quickly. I hate to admit this, but when she was not yet 2 yrs old and in day care, the teacher told me one day at pickup time that my daughter had “used the F- word.” I questioned whether it was possibly misheard (we all know those “fire truck” issues that can happen with toddlers) — but I was told that in fact my daughter had used the word appropriately in a sentence. They were eating cake, and my lovely, sweet, not yet 2 yr old daughter chimed in that the frosting was “all over her F-ing fingers!” Boy was my face red!!

  11. Oh bless him! It is really tricky! As a head teacher I was supposed to stop any swearing but there were the occasions…! As you said, you had to laugh but behind your hand!

  12. My 10-year old argues with me that ‘crap’ is not a swear as well. I tell him, like Mark told Cal, that it is simply not appropriate. I think they know when they are crossing the line and being disrespectful.

  13. Is anyone else wondering why Steve had his dick out during the family picnic? RASJ, can you clarify? 🙂

    Also, I learned to swear at summer camp (and boy, did I ever learn to swear). Witness your blog posts all melding together!

  14. I am not a mom but I work at a private school and we have a lot of teens living in our residence — far from parental supervision. It’s so hard to determine what is a swear, what is not and when its appropriate when they hear it on tv and in thier music all the time. Your policy on don’t swear in front of adults is fabulous!

  15. @Faith — I think “manners” is the point of the piece. Certain language is appropriate or inappropriate depending on usage, context, tone, and time. A blanket “don’t ever swear” directive isn’t realistic. Everybody swears at one time or another — even my 85 year old Southern Belle grandmother. The point is teaching kids when and where it’s okay or not okay. Explain to them how it works and what the consequences are and they can make their own choices. If they break the rules deal with how ever you think best. Just don’t operate under the illusion that they aren’t ever going to do it.

  16. Ha ha. Nice article.
    I’m 12 years old and at my school people can’t go 2 seconds without throwing around a few swear words. Well, except for me. I hate swearing, and think it’s unnecessary. You could just go and pick up a dictionary, find words that are better suited to a situation than swears.
    That probably seems insignificant to you, so…bye!


  17. I remember learning a litany of swear words from an 8 year old named Shayna, coming home on the bus from the Jewish Community Center day camp in NOLA. I was 10 or 11. We’d recite them in sing-song voices while the bus rattled and bounced over the rutty New Orleans streets, giggling madly all the while. Shit, fuck, piss, god-damn, motherfucker, cock, cunt…la la la! Finally the bus driver, a disgruntled woman of about 50 or so (Is there any other sort of bus driver? Really?) let us know she’d had it with our nonsense. And at that time, that’s what it was — none of us had any idea of the power behind our words, their potential to insult, wound, or amuse. They were words we’d heard murmured on television shows or behind closed doors, teeth gritted and faces smashed into pillows. Those blunt, staccato syllables….so appealing sounding, in lieu of an actual, well-articulated opinion.

    Oh, yes…your son WILL learn how to use them in context. But I have a feeling the kid will learn to use them with grace and discrimination, if at all…eventually.


  18. I am the director of the 5th and 6th ministry at my church. My tweens asked for a Biblical lesson on swearing. So I started doing my online research to prepare and came across this. Laughed so hard I cried and I sent this blog to many friends. I am a Christian who loves the Lord and loves to swears. Thanks for sharing… too funny.

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