By BRIGITTE ROZARIO
For those of us in our 30s and 40s, many will have been brought up in strict households where discipline was important, and profanity and swearing was unheard of. Our parents made sure we just didn’t do it and they didn’t do it in front of us either.
Today, even if mum and dad don’t swear in front of the kids, the children pick it up from TV shows, movies and their peers.
They use it as part of their flowery language and they use it when typing posts and messages in their Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Everyone does it, they say.
Does that make it okay?
Jamilah Samian, a certified professional trainer and author of Cool Mum Super Dad and Cool Boys Super Sons, says that her own children don’t swear but some of their friends do.
In some circles the words used are more tame – like “sh*t” and “damn”. In other circles, it gets more vulgar with the now famous four-lettered f word peppered in every other sentence
Is it okay?
Profanity is defined as words, gestures or any kind of expression which are rude, vulgar or abusive in meaning and may insult others.
According to Jamilah, it’s never okay to use abusive language that insults others.
|Jamilah: ‘Parents should be worried because of the negative effects on kids’ personal and professional lives.’|
“Parents should be worried because of the negative effects on kids’ personal and professional lives.
“Think long term: If your child has a habit of using filthy and foul language, how does it reflect on him at the workplace and to society in general? Different families may have different standards when it comes to profanity, but we need to keep in mind the universal standards.
“At the workplace particularly and society in general, using profanity doesn’t reflect well on you although some people may see it as mechanism to release stress and tension. It is seen as a crude, lazy and cheap way of communicating. The ability to express yourself without using profanity enhances your professional image. On the contrary, you’ll be seen as unable to deliver a coherent argument if profanity is your style of communicating,” she says.
According to Beverly Langford, author of The Etiquette Edge: “Those who curse or use offensive language around subordinates and co-workers may be indulging in a form of verbal bullying that borders on abuse. Aside from creating an unpleasant environment, this behaviour also carries legal risk, as it can easily be construed as harassment.”
Why kids curse
Jamilah believes that children use profanity for a variety of reasons:
– When they are caught in a difficult situation;
– They want to fit in (herd mentality);
– When they think it’s cool either because their friends/family members do it or they see/watch it in the movies; or
– They have no alternative words to express negative feelings like anger, disgust, and annoyance.
She says that kids who are used to expressing themselves in healthy ways are unlikely to use profanity simply because it feels good to convey their feelings in a way that helps people to understand what is actually upsetting them.
“Kids need to be exposed to the kind of language that promotes effective communication and are far more expressive of their true feelings and therefore helps them to be better understood. Teach kids to describe their emotions. The simplest way is just to say, ‘I’m angry because …’ Teaching your child appropriate vocabulary is one of the best gifts you can give to him.
“If your child hangs out with friends who restrict membership solely to people who swear, then he’s in the wrong crowd. You can tell your child he deserves to have better friends!”
She explains that contrary to what kids think, not using profanity doesn’t mean they’re not cool, too soft or lack personal will and can be pushed around.
She says that children should be taught that they can be assertive without resorting to cussing.
“People have greater respect for those who are able to express themselves in a more meaningful way,” adds Jamilah.
Teach them young
Although parents cannot be with their children 24-7, they can focus on what goes on at home. Jamilah advises parents to start teaching the kids from young and to look out for “teachable moments”. It could be when watching a movie together or walking on the street and hearing swear words.
Explain to them what it means and that these are vulgar and insulting words.
“You can ask them what they think. And then tell them what you think in a matter-of-fact way. Say something like, ‘It may look cool when you swear on TV like that, but people who use that kind of language are less respected. If you want to be heard, you need to use better language than that. The kind that touches people’s hearts in a positive way. The kind that makes them sit up and listen. Profanity doesn’t do that. What it does is quite the opposite’,”says the mother of six.
She opines that it is not just the job of the parents to help correct the children. It is the responsibility of every adult who has a hand in raising children – parents, teachers, neighbours, coaches and grandparents.
“For younger kids especially, they absorb new things like a sponge and these include words, both good and bad. They’re discovering the power of words; how particular words affect people. How you respond matters a lot, especially the first time you hear them spit it out. If you laugh or smile because you think it’s funny, it’s a stamp of approval for them. Your silence also reinforces it. Kids will be more cautious if they get a clear message from you that it’s something you frown upon,” says Jamilah.
She asks parents to consider these questions:
– Is it true that profanity is an acceptable norm at the workplace?
– Despite the popular view that profanity is nothing at the workplace, there are studies that prove otherwise: The PA 2009 survey conducted by online payroll service SurePayroll found that “most small business owners prefer to keep workplace language clean, no matter how tough current business conditions may be. Three out of four business owners found workplace profanity to be offensive and believe it is unprofessional for employees to curse while on the clock. According to the survey, 80% of respondents believe that even seemingly innocent on-the-job swearing can be interpreted the wrong way and have negative consequences.
– As individuals, we have to decide. Do we want profanity to proliferate or not?
If you hear your child using swear words or even see it in their online communication, then you need to check them immediately before it becomes a habit.
“If you have open communication with your child, then the best way is for you to have a pep talk with your child. Normally, that’s all that is needed. It’s a matter of personal dignity. Why do you lower yourself to communicate in such a manner when you can express yourself in better ways. What do you get from there?” asks Jamilah.
She suggests using a system to penalise teenage children if they use swear words. You could fine them each time they use profanity. The money collected should be donated to charity. Don’t use it for treats because that will just make them swear more!
Just say ‘No’
Parents can also impose a house rule of no profanity. That means the whole family does not use swear words at home or even when they’re out but with their family.
This applies to the whole family, including dad and mum.
That means that as harmless as your own swearing may be, make sure you clean up your language in front of the kids or better still stop swearing as soon as you become parents.
“Once you get used to swearing, it becomes second nature. Then it spills over to your home when you least expect it, especially when you’re under pressure. If you are so used to peppering your speech with profanity, you’re using profanity as speech fillers. Ask yourself: Is this the kind of language I want my little ones (or my parents or grandparents) to hear? What is the connotation, the message I’m sending here? Kids who are used to hearing it will be conditioned to use profanity as speech fillers as they cannot think of better things to say.
“Using profanity is a breakable habit. Arm yourself with tasteful language e.g. ‘I’m awfully angry.’ ‘I’m frustrated.’ ‘I’m so mad right now I need time to think.’ Teach your child a whole set of vocabulary for emotional language. There are so many ways of expressing yourself without resorting to swearing. When we use healthier language, it allows us to express how we truly feel and it makes us feel good. The other party also understands us better without his emotions or judgment being clouded by the offensive language that we use.
“When we use foul words coupled with gestures, it makes the listener(s) uneasy and hence less receptive to what we say.
“Awareness is always the first step before change. If you have a habit of using profanity and it’s accepted language in your house, discuss with your kids why you want to stop, and how. Make a habit of reminding each other not to use it.
“If you seriously want to stop, slow down when you talk so you become more conscious of the words that you utter. It’s one way of filtering your speech,” advises Jamilah.
It is NOT just a word
She firmly believes that parents are not over-reacting and that vulgarities and obscenities are not “just words”.
“The kinds of words we use tells a lot about who we are. It reflects on our thinking and personality. It’s actually easier to explain to teenagers than younger kids why they should stay away from profanity because their cognitive abilities are far more developed than the little ones. Key to behaviour change is education. If you find it hard to explain why it’s distasteful to use profanity, you can send them articles to enlighten them on the subject. Stories that highlight the negative consequences might work well, too.
“You may think there’s nothing you can do because everyone is doing it anyway, but you have that responsibility. What are you doing about it? Forget about other people. You can’t control what other people are doing. But you have control over yourself as a parent. It is a form of self-discipline. Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you have to follow.
“I suppose what our generation does will largely determine whether the younger generation passes it on to the next generation,” adds Jamilah.
(as reported in ParenThots, Star Online 20 September 2010)