Thursday, 16 July 2009

"What did you just say to me?"


My perspective on language -- Parents of Teens, you know what I mean by language --has changed completely in the last couple of years.

My older kids NEVER (read actually as 'never in my ear shot') used inappropriate language. (Well, at least after the Slightly More Mature One cut his finger on a kid's braces while washing the mouth out with soap, but that's another story.)

Our younger 4 are learning English, good and bad English words, during their teenage years and yes, they have used those words within my ear shot.

Most recently, although not specifically four-letter, TT said to me as she was walking away in a little hormonal huff, "You have ISSUES."

Yes, I responded by counting to 10...very slowly.

When my kids use language that is a stretch for them - idiomatic expressions, college prep testing words - husband and I call it a 25 cent word and give them a quarter. We want them to push themselves.

What do I do when they stretch a little too much?

Well, to begin with we focus on intent. We try to teach them to speak and act respectfully. What do you mean by what you are saying? Are you trying to hurt someone? Consider the repercussions.

Up until recently there were particular words that were off limits.

You know the words...

The same words that are part of the music they listen to, that are in the movies they watch, that they hear of the school bus.

Sigh. It was seeming like an uphill battle: Don't say this, Don't say that. And they didn't always understand why.

Then my dear friend Lucy came to visit. Lucy is a good Irish girl - with a mouth like she was raised in a pub.
A dear sweet, loving mother and wife, who thinks nothing of saying things exactly as she sees it. And I have never cringed at her language in front of her kids, or mine. It's just part of the Lucyness.

Our new focus on language is on when to say what words and how they are said. Truly, this is what we want kids to learn.

I want the kids to learn that some language, just like dress, is more appropriate in one place, situation, audience than another.

So, when I hear CC, 13, say d**n after he drops a glass in the kitchen when he is alone, I no longer run around the corner to let him know I heard. That is an appropriate use of the word. I might remind him not to say it at grandma's house -- because that is what he needs to learn: Self control and appropriateness. I need to have them learn how to handle their language independently. After all it's clear to us that high school hallway talk is different from high school class talk is different from at the bus stop talk is different from dinner with Nana talk. And they need to complete the discernment on their own 'cuz we won't always be there.

It's just more teaching and letting go, isn't it?



  1. I too have a problem with my teens and their language. The problem is my hubby uses inappropriate language on a daily basis and then gets upset when they use it! I have tried talking calmly and explaining why I do not want the use of such language, I have ranted and raged about the use when I have counted to 10 and it is not enough and still I am at a loss as to how to break through the teen barrier that my eldest in particular thinks is his right!
    I feel I am constantly waging a losing battle over language, but will remain focused and positive.

  2. I used to have a bit of a sailor's mouth but that all stoped (except the occasional "bloody") when the kids came along. They never hear me or their dad swearing and yet I know they say the F word to their friends. They even post is on Facebook, which I read when they leave themselves logged in. I just have to think that as long as they know not to say it at home (where they have the 6 year old), there's not a lot more I can do.

  3. That was a brilliant post, Sink. Fortunately Junior has two languages (and two accents) one for his mates (which I pretend never to hear) and one for adults. As for rhe girls, I've never heard either of them utter a single swearword and they're now well old enough to be washing their own children's mouths out with soap. I'd like to say that's because girls are easier to raise but they're not - they just have different ISSUES!!!

  4. SS - Can I just say (my boys don't read this blog) as a mother of 4 boys and 4 girls that girls are much easier. (My last boy was an accident - accidental paper work.) Thanks for the compliment, tho!

    ExM - See, You've modeled for them how to choose language! Bravo!

    B - Of course, when all else fails, we can just pretend that we didn't hear them!