Cursed by Bad Words

My son has always been obsessed with words, learning to spell states and football players’ names when he became bored with his spelling words. He currently keeps a list of city names from our state and names of characters from books he reads. And I believe he also has a running list of all the cuss words he knows.

“The H one, the D one, the S, the A,” he says. “I just can’t figure out what the I one is.”

“The I one?” I think as I rack my brain. “What in the world is the I word?”

Years ago, the fact that my kid knew any cuss words in third grade would have bothered me a great deal. I would have felt irresponsible, guilty. But I realize it’s a natural, curious part of growing up. So it’s a little earlier than I would have liked, but I don’t think it’s any earlier than the boys I grew up with.

Though to him learning a new word is like cracking a code into some secret adult society, just knowing satisfies him. He doesn’t use them except, I’m sure, between giggles and whispers with his closest friends as they try to figure out life as third graders. He tells me his new words, but he protects his little sister.

Now that he’s nine, he’s at an age where it’s getting harder to decide where the boundaries are. This doesn’t mean we’re encouraging our son to swear. It means we’re deciding whether our son can possibly be mature enough to handle knowing bad things and not using them, using his own good judgment.

When he was invited to see The Avengers recently, at first I firmly put my foot down. No PG-13 movies. But it’s the summer blockbuster hit everyone and their five-year-old is raving about. After researching the movie and learning the swear words in it, I really didn’t want him to go. I polled a few people whose opinions I trust. One planned to take her seven-year-old. Hmm. Was I being too tough on my son?

I’ve always tried to shelter him from lewd language but when he’s out on his own, it’s out of my control.

When I read to him, I skip over anything I deem unfit. Several months ago, when I mentioned J.K. Rowling has an adult book coming out this year, he wanted to know why he couldn’t read it.

“Does it have cuss words in it? I bet it does if it’s for adults.”

“There are cuss words in Harry Potter,” I told him, surprised he hadn’t noticed during his reading. I even slipped and read damn one night in the throes of a heated dialogue.

“Is it the J one? Because I don’t know what that one means,” he said.

children's source for bad words, muddledmom

The children’s dictionary. A wonderful reference for naughty words, including the J one.

My husband so rarely gets to witness these conversations. “The J one?” he said. “I don’t even want to know what that one is.”

My son whispered into my husband’s ear, and I was thrilled to not have to explain what a word means. “That’s a donkey.”

“A donkey?” my son said. Bubble burst. The meanings really take the fun out of knowing a bad word.

“Well, I know it doesn’t have the B one,” my son continued. “That’s written on the back of the stall in the fifth-grade boys’ bathroom.”

I remember this struggle when I was a kid. I had learned a few choice words, possibly from my dad. In fourth grade he was nagging me about leaving my bike in the rain and in my retort, I couldn’t remember which word to use. “Well how the hell was I supposed to know?” Innocent mistake, though I’m not sure heck would have really been any better.

We’ve had our own incidents but not as bad as I’d expect, especially for a boy who collects bad words like pirate treasure. I found something in his backpack with bad words written on it. His friend gave him a quarter to write them. I was disappointed that he was stupid enough to do what his friend said. We had a long talk about those words, the principal, and the phrase, “If your friend told you to jump off a cliff…”

I want my kids to understand words, to understand that they can have more than one meaning, that they can hurt, that they can be nasty, and that they can be effective.

The word I do worry about? It’s an I word: ignorance. I won’t tolerate any words that deal with that.

And the movie? We let him see it. He was so enthralled by the action, he didn’t notice any bad words. I worried for nothing.



Filed under Boy Stories

37 responses to “Cursed by Bad Words

  1. Love this post! My 4 year old is obsessed with spelling too- he loves to know how to spell his favorite things (like American Airlines and FedEx truck). When he hears a naughty word he calls them “potty words” and so far he hasn’t asked how to spell them but I’m sure that’s coming. I love your final thought about ignorance too. Nice job!

    • Thanks! And potty words would definitely be an appropriate term.

      That’s funny that your son wants to know how to spell the brand names of vehicles. Print them out and put them on his closet doors. Art and learning in one.

  2. When my son was in third grade he asked me what it meant when someone sticks up their middle finger. I told him, “If you do it to me, you’ll be grounded. If you do it to a teacher, you’ll be sent to the principal. And if you do it to another kid, you’ll get beat up.”
    I’m always shocked when I hear the number of curse words in older movies such as Back to the Future which we all remember as a fun kid’s movie (or maybe I just do) which is rated PG. I think the ratings have tightened up a bit since the Eighties.
    Good job Muddle Mom – your son seems to share your positive I-word trait: imagination.

    • I gave a few drivers the finger while sitting in the back of my mom’s station wagon one day. My brother had told me it meant “stupid”. I thought it was nice that I got some waves and some fingers back. The adults I remember seeing were all smiling, probably at the absurdity of seeing a small kid flipping them off. I am horrified still by the thought that I was doing this, and at the thought of my children doing the same.

    • Ha, clever. Funny you should mention those 80s movies. We just watched E.T. recently. Again, something I researched and found had a term in it I did not want my son to repeat. PG in the 80s was definitely lax before PG-13 came around. So my husband and I watched it and because it was on TV, they had deleted all the bad words. Whew. Good thing. It’s a great movie for my kids’ ages.

      I saw the last few minutes of an old “Facts of Life” last night. I was a little surprised at what I grew up with. Maybe I’m too strict? Geesh.

  3. Maybe it’s “Idiot”? Just wracking my brain trying to think of the “I” one… We consider “stupid” and “shut up” to be curses in our house. Well, the kids and I do. Hubby’s from Staten Island and he can drop F-bombs like nobody’s bidness!
    Great post!

    • Yeah, those words are considered bad in our house too. Not to say they aren’t used. I recommend other words or dole out punishment if it gets out of hand. But you know, it’s hard when Magic Tree House uses “stupid.” And lots of kids’ chapter books use “shut up.”

    • LOL, Oh this comment made me laugh! Really good post here! I try to be strict but sometimes other parents make me feel like I’m over reacting and say “it’s okay if your child plays gory games on playstation or watches R rated movies.” It’s hard to stay strong with your children if other parents are stating your wrong. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I totally agree with you – these words are a reality and making them taboo will only give them more power. I also agree with some of the comments – words like idiot, stupid and shut up are worse words than the H word and the D word! The I word you are teaching him is intelligence – good for you!

  5. H–l of a d–n good post! You can say it’s the kids at school teaching him these words, but my money’s on his father.

    • Next time you come for dinner, don’t eat the pie… Seriously, (and that was a pretty funny comment by the way) that’s where a lot of kids do learn these words. And if their parents ever come to me and say my son taught their kids, I have the stories about the time their husband got mad and said the S word to prove it. 😉

  6. I loved this post, MM! I love your son’s curiosity about it all. Now I’m thinking of the Christmas Story movie line, “Only I didn’t say ‘fudge’.”

    I remember being revolted by a babysitter who once said “sh*t” in front of me when I was about six. I was told that it was a dirty word and I never thought the same of her after that. I was perhaps a bit too sheltered.

    • When driving a few weeks ago, we stopped at a light and the truck near us had a bumper sticker that read “Unless you’re a hemorrhoid, get off my a$$.” I saw it and hoped the light would turn green. I heard some giggles from the backseat and knew he had seen it. “Hey, Mom! Hey, Mom! Look! Look! That truck says…” I hit the gas and said, “I know and don’t say another word.”

  7. I like the way you think about swear words and children. They will hear them eventually, sooner than we we wish them to, so it makes sense to talk about them and how words can hurt people.
    I remember coming home from kindergarten and calling my sister my enemy (a freshly learned word from school). My mom freaked out, gave me some serious time out and would not let me walk down the street to buy chicken eggs from our neighbor, a chore we loved to do. I was confused because I did not know what the word meant so did not understand why I was in trouble. I was just showing off my new word.
    BTW you are back in my reader! 🙂

  8. Ignorance really is a much uglier word than anything that gets bleeped on TV. I can think of much worse things for my child to have than a potty mouth — like a mean streak, or a closed mind.

  9. I decided awhile ago that, although I wasn’t going to inundate Dimples with these words, nor would I censor them. To give them less power, I tell her that words can’t be bad, just the time and place that we use them. She has never felt the need to try any of them out loud as far as I know.

    • Good point. I think what I tell my son is “we don’t talk like that” because we really don’t. Now let’s not talk about my high school days. 😉

  10. Mairi King

    This was so timely! My son came home today saying he learned a few code words for swear words (I think he and your son would get along). The words are shmoo, shmee (think first-grade, potty humour), shmidt and shmuck! I howled with laughter! I didn’t ask if he knows the actual cuss words he’s refering to. Luckily we haven’t gone there yet. We put a big toe in those waters last summer when we watched “Fantastic Mr. Fox”, which really is fantastic, but throws the word “cuss” around in almost every sentence… I think kids only take in what they’re ready for, and a lot goes over their heads, as it did ours back in the day. Loved your thoughts on this topic.

    • Boys can get very creative. That is hysterical. So far my daughter is clueless, or at least she doesn’t let on. But I do think she would say something to me. Code words. That’s the point where we laugh and then our son usually quickly crosses the line, like explaining it in case we didn’t quite understand.

  11. Nancy simmons

    How did you learn to be such a good mom?

  12. No idea what the I word is but like someone said, it’s probably “idiot.” I’ve also nominated you for a Reader Appreciation Award, yay!

  13. Nice post, Karen. We too are going through the “list.” I always hate when we drive by the donkeys nearby and Ginny (5-yr-old) must casually explain to her siblings why we don’t call them the A-word (only she says the word).

    And tonight, I said the S-word — in German. Danggit, if It didn’t get past my oldest. By the time he said it the 4th time, I said, ENOUGH. He was surprised I was angry until I told him that I had cursed in a foreign language. “Well, Mom, is shuck-a-doodles a foreign word too?”

    No, son, that’s a real one. A MOM one, one that certainly won’t get you into trouble.

  14. My seven-year-old is all about words right now. Good and bad ones. I just try to be honest and make sure he understands what is appropriate and what is not. It is a struggle sometimes!

  15. mommysaidaswearword

    I swear like a sailor (obviously). I think it was all the years of bartending in college that did me in. I think you are completely correct- kids will use those bad words, just as adults do, it is a matter of learning the boundaries of when and where they can be used respectfully. I’ll never forget my little sister, who is now 15, came home off of the bus one day and said “I heard the F word on the bus today, mom. And I really want to say it just once so that I know what it feels like. Can I whisper it in your ear?” My step mother didn’t want to discourage her polite way of handling the situation, so she agreed that it could be whispered once and only once. Lib leaned over very lightly said “fart!”.

    • That is priceless! Yeah, one day early on my son recounted all the words he knows–the S, the H. Turns out it was stupid, heck. Sometimes you just have to have faith that they don’t know quite yet. And then one day they do!

  16. I enjoyed your post and the wisdom contained in it. I can tell by this post that you are a good parent. Your caring shows, as well as your attempts to balance the “how much do I protect? versus “how much do I allow them to experience and grow?” ratio. That can be one of the toughest questions for parents. I ddin’t always get it right, but knew the importance of often asking the question and watching for clues as to the correct answer for a given situation–as you did so well in the situations you mentioned in your excellent post! Well done!


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