It’s Okay To Swear Around Your Kids, Says Science

by Mike Julianelle
Originally Published: 
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It’s okay to swear in front of kids, according to a professor’s new book

Like it or not, when you become a parent, you become a role model. And in order to be the best example for your kids, you’re often forced to change your behavior. It’s not always easy, but a new book from a professor of cognitive science is here to ease your load. Because according to him, it’s okay to swear around your kids. Fuck yes!

According to Quartz, Benjamin Bergen, a linguist and professor of cognitive science at UC Davis, has written a book about swearing in front of children. And the news is good for stressed parents everywhere.

The book, What the F: What Swearing Reveals About our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves, came about after Bergen noticed some changes in the way he used profanity after he became a father. He was censoring himself, the same way many parents do when they fear their kids are listening. No parent wants to get a call from school after their kid drops a few f-bombs in class.

But, academic that he is, Bergen began to wonder if watching his words was necessary. So he looked into it, and he found that it’s less about the words than the context. He makes a distinction between swears and slurs – essentially an insult, or a mean remark about someone – and found that while slurs were harmful and could impact a person’s behavior, “ordinary profanity—four-letter words—causes any sort of direct harm: no increased aggression, stunted vocabulary, numbed emotions or anything else.”

Bergen concedes that swearing at children is abusive, but swearing around them? He essentially lets us off the hook. Kids are constantly saying things they shouldn’t, whether they overheard Mommy and Daddy saying it, heard a Slick Rick song, or walked past a group of sailors discussing their latest shore leave.

I am constantly giving my wife shit for swearing around our kids, not because I think swearing is a big deal – I swear my ass off! – but because I realize there is a time and place for it, and during first grade math is not it. It’s our responsibility to teach our kids that difference, and in an effort to do that, my wife and I typically try to draw a line between things Mommy and Daddy can say and do that aren’t appropriate for our kids to emulate.

Kids can’t grasp the nuances of social interaction the way (most) adults can. I’m able to turn my potty-mouth off when I’m at work, for example, but I can’t trust a six-year-old to know that swearing at the TV during a football game and swearing in the middle of church are two entirely different things. Inappropriate venues aside, according to this book, provided you aren’t using swears to attack and insult people, who gives a shit if you throw a few four-letter words around in front of children.

It’s nice to know that there’s some scientific backup around, not necessarily to justify throwing the f-word around in the school drop-off line, but at least to make us feel a little less guilty when we do.

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