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Is it okay for parents to swear in front of their kids?

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Vintage ceramic "swear jar" or "cuss box."
Flickr (Grannie's Kitchen)
Vintage ceramic "swear jar" or "cuss box."

Swearing in front of children is generally frowned upon, but is it really that bad to let the occasional curse word slip? A mom and cursing expert weigh in.

Kids say the darndest things, don't they?

Parents do too, although they may use tougher words than "darndest" not generally in front of their kids, though. Swearing in front of children is generally frowned upon, but is it really that bad to let the occasional curse word slip?

Kate Levkoff, blogger and co-host of the podcast "Nursing and Cursing" argues that it's not. She and her husband did try a "swear jar" for a while, but ultimately they decided against censoring themselves.

"It was a lot of 'shut the front door,' 'oh sugar,' 'darn,' Levkoff says, but "it just was not us."

Number one on her list of 5 reasons I don't give an eff about swearing in front of my kids? "Because I'm a grownup."

In her family when she was growing up, Levkoff says, "there were just some things that you were allowed to do as an adult. My parents swore in the house, not at us, but around us, and we never thought to swear." 

Now that she's a parent herself, she says she came to the realization: "I'm the grownup here. I can say whatever I want now. I've arrived."

That doesn't mean that there aren't any rules around swearing in her household. While her kids do hear her using four-letter words, Levkoff says, "my kids never hear me call anybody stupid or fat or ugly."

Professor Timothy Jay, a psychologist and cursing expert at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, says Kate's story is pretty typical of other parents in America.

"Most parents have rules about language, or against bad language, but most parents don't follow those rules," Jay says. "We have emotions, so we express them."

In studying the words that kids use, Jay has found that before kids go off to school, they have 40 to 50 "bad" words in their vocabulary. By the time they reach the age of 12, that expands to over 100 words.

While kids will learn the bad words whether they hear them from their parents or not, Jay says the thing for parents to remember is that it's more important to teach kids how to handle their emotions, especially anger.

"Learning where you can and cannot use this kind of language," Jay says, "and who will it offend more than other people I think that's kind of a good mission for parents."

To hear the full interview with Kate Levkoff and Timothy Jay, click the link above.

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