When my teen recently dropped the “F-word,” I swear it shook me to my core. As she was getting ready for school one morning, I heard the words “what the freak” thundering down the hallway, jolting me awake from my early morning slumber.
Now “freak” may be an innocuous four-letter word unlike some other unprintable words, but in my house the kids are the ones who usually threaten to wash my mouth with soap and water when I start speaking in French. Sometimes they pardon me, sometimes they censor me with a glowering look, and at other times one of them will pipe up, saying, “Mummy, can’t you say that another way?”
I asked Diane Massa, licensed clinical social worker with offices in South Huntington and Massapequa Park, to weigh in on kids and their use of profanity. “Different families have very different standards for what’s acceptable for themselves and others,” she said. “What I tell families and parents is we don’t curse at people because that is abusive. We don’t curse in inappropriate places — at the dinner table. You never curse at teachers, police officers, at work” or in inappropriate situations “because there are consequences. Children have to learn where certain language is acceptable and not. And that has to be explained” to them. She said the issue most parents have about using curse words is: "Are kids cursing at the parents, which is of course inappropriate, or are they cursing at each other, siblings?"
What if your family doesn't use colorful language “and you have a particular child who starts using those words a lot? Then I want to see if that’s a symptom of something more. It may not be. It’s very hard with teenagers to tell if it’s normal teenage behavior or if it’s a symptom of something else going on. If it’s none of these things, instead of reacting you want to find out what’s going on."
You can ask, “Did something bad happen?” Or say, “I find those kind of words disrespectful or I prefer we don’t use certain words in this house.” If the word is derogatory, explain the origin of the word. Certain words may have lost their power over time. “I think even the ‘F word’ has lost its power because it’s used so commonly.” As a parent, “you want to set the rules about what’s acceptable in your house. If something is offensive to you, then you want to explain why because most kids are oblivious as to why those words have connotations.”
In my case, Massa says, my teen's (thus far) one-time use of “what the freak” is not so horrible if it doesn’t bother me. “I think you had the right attitude. She didn’t say anything horrible. She didn’t say anything to you. My reaction would be, 'Is she OK?’ ”
Now gosh darn it, I insist I have the last few words. While I expect my kids to abide by Massa's guidelines, I must add that I am of Indian heritage, and the only "F-word" that's not acceptable in my book is the one on my kids’ report cards.