There is something mildly disconcerting about hearing your toddler say that he’ll “lick your boom-boom down.” I give my son a pretty long leash when it comes to what he watches on YouTube, and when he discovered Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon’s “The History of Rap Part 6” via The Tonight Show’s channel, as a lifelong Justin Timberlake superfan, I was happy that he seemed to enjoy something JT did. He obsessively watched the video. But at the time, he couldn’t really discern (or repeat) most of what they were rapping about, so I didn’t give it any more thought.
Then he began to learn the words to the songs, and I thought it was adorable. He would grab his flashlight microphone and yell out the words to “Fight for Your Right” by the Beastie Boys. It was hilarious to hear him try to sing the lyrics to Snow’s “Informer” and R. Kelly’s “Ignition.” I would sing along with him, often playing the Jimmy to his Justin. Since it was on television, even if it was late night, I figured everything was relatively PG. But listening to him sing along to music that no doubt leaves many parents saying, “Oh my!” only reinforced what I kind of always knew about myself: swearing and “foul language” just doesn’t bother me.
I also have a confession to make: I think little kids swearing is hilarious. When a friend’s daughter was a toddler, she went through a phase where she would swear, and every time she did, I would burst out laughing. I seriously can’t help it. I always knew that if I had a kid who did that I would lose my composure and not be able to keep it together. I’m a pretty good disciplinarian, but that’s where I would drop the ball. I would be like Cam in the episode of Modern Family where Lily swears — dissolving into a fit of giggles with every word that came out of my son’s mouth. I knew that I wouldn’t be mad, especially if he used the words in proper context.
I do, of course, use swear words in everyday conversation, and have done so since I was a tween. Because my parents put such an emphasis on not using such words, when I got to middle school, I swore like a sailor. Once, I slipped up and said “shit” while I was talking to a friend on the phone and lied when my dad asked me if he had heard me correctly. (My dad doesn’t swear much, but my mom does.)
As I got older, I was able to cool it down, but sometimes you just need to say “fuck this shit” to really get your point across. While I didn’t totally eliminate swearing from my vocabulary once my son got old enough to start to understand and repeat such words, I did scale it back a bit. And while I don’t mind it, I know other people would be turned off by a toddler yelling “shit.”
Personally, I don’t believe in censoring what my kid hears. He’s going to be out in the real world without me sometimes, and people are going to say things. I’ve heard young kids using that kind of language (I mean, really young), and I don’t want him to be horrified by their words, like they’re the worst thing in the world, because there are far worse things.
I remember, when I was a tween, there was a CD I wanted but couldn’t get because of the parental advisory label on the cover, even though a few years earlier my mother had gotten me Alanis Morrissette’s Jagged Little Pill album which definitely has swear words in it. My mother was aghast at the lyrics to the song “Barbie Girl” by Aqua because they used some sexual innuendo, but didn’t mind me watching soap operas with her. You can grasp the irony.
I also hated the idea of Kidz Bop CDs sanitizing the language of songs not made for kids when they could just turn on the radio and hear the original versions. Not to mention, they make my ears bleed.
Recently, a study was released that stated people who swear tend to be smarter. I don’t want to tout my own intelligence here, but I totally believe that. I can eviscerate you with my extensive vocabulary, and I can also tell you to go fuck yourself. It doesn’t have to be an either/or kind of situation. Using curse words doesn’t make me any less intelligent. I actually think it takes more skill to know where to place a swear word to make the most impact.
Swearing is actually a bit of an art; being able to weave it into everyday conversation is a skill. Look at how Samuel L. Jackson is able to weave words like “fuck” and “motherfucker” into a sentence and make it sound just as eloquent as something more cerebral. He’s been able to make “motherfucker” sound as commonplace as “dude” or “that guy.” Skills, people. Skills.
A couple months ago, I heard my son say, “What the hell is that?” He was looking through a drawer and saw candy that he hadn’t known about. He was so nonchalant that at first I wasn’t even sure if he had actually said what I thought I heard.
It wasn’t until he said the phrase again a few weeks later that my suspicions were confirmed. I didn’t yell at him or punish him. I just gently told him that some people don’t like that word and that he should only say it if he’s with Mommy. He seemed to understand and hasn’t said it again since, but if he does, I’m not really going to push the issue.
I’m going to continue letting him listen to his beloved “History of Rap” video and probably giggle a little harder than I should when he says something inappropriate. I don’t for a second believe this is going to somehow damage him in any way, shape, or form. He will always know that there is a time and place for swearing, and for now, it’s only when he’s with Mommy.
It’ll be our little secret — until this publishes.