This letter has been brewing for awhile now, and trust me, it’s of no fault of your own. I write this for your future reference as you haven’t yet crossed into this territory, but I know that someday you will. At that point, I will sit your behind down in my desk chair and force you to read this letter. Hello, Future Brothers.
This is what you looked like when I wrote this letter.
Over the past few years, I’ve seen a trend in parenting discussions toward the belief that “words are just words.” The belief is that it’s okay for your kids to cuss, use not-so-nice words and generally pick and choose their own colorful vocabulary because words are just words. I’m here to tell you in no uncertain terms that’s not true. Words are not just words.
“I don’t censor my kids.” “I let them say what they’re feeling.” “I talk to my kid like he’s an adult, and if that includes a few cuss words, so be it.” “By making certain words “bad,” you’re just giving them more power.”
Bull. Yes, I see what I did there.
I’ve heard all of the excuses under the sun for letting young children cuss, swear, curse and generally run rampant at the mouth. I have less of a problem with adorable little four-year-old kids cussing than I do with what your father and I have run into over the past few weeks.
Oh, teenagers, how your foul mouths betray you.
In the checkout line tonight, I had to listen to two teens use a number of words as they tried to impress the cute cashier. She was seemingly unimpressed and I just wanted to tell them that if they toned it down (and wore a hat with some curve in the bill), they’d be far more likely to attract her positive attention. It’s not that I hadn’t said any of those words. I just don’t say them in public to a cashier in a store with a child standing behind me in line. Because I have manners.
While at the high school football game with the two of you earlier this year, when you were still four- and six-years-old, we walked past the student section to hear one boy ask a girl how her “butt” was. He didn’t say butt. If I ever hear you ask a girl, in public, at a volume of a yell, how her “butt” is, I will grab your ear and pull you out of the stands. Maybe they were bike riding earlier that day and she fell. Maybe she hurt her butt. Maybe the young gentleman without a shirt in the cold of November could have said, “How are you feeling? Are you still in pain?”
Your dad was behind a group of teens at a local restaurant a couple of weeks ago. He wanted to apologize to the cashier for the words the group had used and the way that they were behaving. He was embarrassed. He almost said something, but he knew it wouldn’t go well. Their language was so bad that he said he would have left if you two had been with him. It was that bad. And your dad has used some words in his day. I’m sure you’ve heard them.
Now, I get it. I’m not a big ole stick in the mud. I remember being a teenager and even a pre-teen. I remember thinking it was funny to cuss when the adults weren’t listening. As an adult now, I like a well-placed cuss word when I’m in the heat of the moment. But here’s the point: The “moment” is not repeatedly, every other word, or used to be vulgar to women or men. The “moment” is rarely, if ever, in a public place with mixed company. The “moment” is most definitely not to impress someone; if someone is impressed with your bad language, you’re hanging with the wrong people.
I’m not going to tell you to never cuss. That’s silly. I cuss at times and I’m sure you know that by now. But you don’t get to be a bully with your words (or your fists, but that’s another post). You don’t get to call people stupid or “retarded” or, like the little boy on your Kindergarten field trip, “gay.” You don’t get to hurt people’s feelings or make them feel belittled or “less than” with your words. You can tell jokes with your friends when you’re in the right environment; you can throw out a word here or there when you aren’t going to risk making yourself look bad. You can use them in the heat of the moment, when you’re just really ticked off, in the safety and understanding of our own home. But no, I’m not going to tell you that “words are just words” and that cussing willy-nilly is okay.
You can’t walk into a job interview and expect the employer to accept a raunchy vocabulary. You can’t comment on a coworker’s “butt” and not expect to be slapped with a sexual harassment suit. You can’t say certain things as an adult, and it’s my job, as one of your parents, to help you realize that now. Words can hurt others. Words can hurt you. Words can hurt your chance at a future. Words can hurt your reputation. Words can and will follow you, especially if you write them but even if they are “merely” spoken. Words have weight. Words have meaning. Words have connotation and denotation. Words mean something.
All of this rambling comes down to this: You are judged by the words you use whether you want to believe it or not. You’re also judged if you can’t speak properly; God help you if I ever hear you say “we was” or “I seen.” I want you to think about this as you talk with your friends, both in public and in the safety of our home. I want you to choose your words with purpose. I want you to own your words. And when you cuss, I want you to do it with feeling and passion at the appropriate times, not just because you can. Make it mean something when you say one of those “ugly” words.
Make all of your words mean something.
You won’t regret it.
Your Occasionally Cussing Mom Who Does So with Feeling and Passion at Mostly Appropriate Times