Wise Parents Teach Their Children How to Curse

Wise Parents Teach Their Children How to Curse

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It is impossible to engage our culture at any level and not hear their language, including curse words. Whether it is social media, a television show, or a stroll in the park, our culture’s words do not discriminate or care about our worldview. Because of the unending assault of their language upon us, the questions every caring parent must answer are: Who is going to teach their child the culture’s language, and when is the proper time to do it?

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A few relevant and practical questions about parenting, children, and language will help us orient our minds and establish our goals regarding this critical subject. For example, will your child learn curse words from someone? If so, who will teach your child curse words? From what context do you want your child to learn their first curse words? Who will be developing your child’s theology of language, including curse words? Who is currently teaching your child a theology of curse words? Our culture’s words are like soldiers on a mission to redefine and reshape how we think. Their language has a clear-cut objective: to defile and corrupt the soul.

This concept was made too real to me some years ago when our then-six-year-old daughter verbalized her joy at some good fortune that came her way. She was talking to our 45-year-old friend, who was not prepared for the moment, when our child exclaimed, “I am so damn excited.” She made that statement while flinging her arms upward and falling backward inside our van. My friend’s mouth dropped as she helplessly tried to regain her game face. Our innocent daughter was oblivious to the weight of her words. That was the day I made a mental note to teach her about curse words.

It became clear she needed a better theology and practice of language. Somehow she picked up on the word damn and unwittingly used it in context. All wise and discerning parents are well aware that our culture will not slow down for them to catch up and that it is more than willing to do our job for us. Someone will teach your child about what is right and wrong. Will it be you or them? When the world inevitably knocks on your door, it would be proactively wise of you to have already introduced your children to it. With language in mind, here are four things children need to think well about our culture’s language.

  • They need a biblical interpretation of the culture’s words.
  • They need a lack of surprise or curiosity by the culture’s words.
  • They need the courage to walk away from the culture’s language.
  • They need discretion when using the culture’s language in relational interactions.

Threefold Goal

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29).

This kind of training begins with a transcending and overarching parenting goal, which is to love God and others as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40). As your child is learning this unique two-tiered worldview about loving God and others, you can begin laying down a sound language strategy. That strategy will have three parts:

  • Teach your child what God’s Word says (or implies) about language.
  • Test how your child is using language in relational contexts.
  • Release your child incrementally into the world for the practical application of your teaching.

With your God-loving, other-centered worldview in place, you will be able to instruct your child to rise above the unedifying noise of our culture. To turn language training over to someone who does not believe the way you do would be disobedient and unkind. Thus, I waited until our cursing daughter was 11 years old before we began our theology of curse word conversations. Our son was 12 years old when I started introducing him to swear words. Our youngest daughter was going on 12, too. These private conversations were between the child and their parents, while the younger siblings were not part of those discussions.

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A Time to Cuss

Our children had proven themselves trustworthy in stewarding truths about less weighty matters, so introducing them to weightier things like our culture’s language was not a concern for us. We were confident they would be able to steward our conversations with discretion and humility. This season is a wisdom issue that each parent will have to determine according to the season of life and maturity of the child. As our kids were advancing to a higher level in school (and church), there was motivation for us to be proactive in cultural language indoctrination lessons, knowing they would be encountering new words with more culturally indoctrinated children.

I introduced five words to our daughter and defined them. They were curse, cuss, hell, damn, and ass. Typically, when we have conversations like this, I use a writing device so I can sketch them for them to see visually. I wrote the words “cuss words” on our iPad and asked her if she knew what they meant. She did not. I then wrote the words curse words, and she did not know what they meant either. From there, I introduced her to the words hell, damn, and ass. She asked, “Why does dam have an “n” at the end of it?” A part of me was sad because I knew I was moving her from childhood innocence to being an adult in our culture.

Many parents struggle with the idea of their children getting older and leaving the nest. I did. It is hard to accept and even tougher to release them into the wild (world). However, I have come to terms with the inevitability of life while choosing to be the one guiding them out of the nest rather than the world luring them from of the nest (Deuteronomy 32:11). We continued as we talked about hell being a place of eternal torment and how some individuals could use it as an unkind and angry response, as in, “Go to hell!” It was interesting she did not know what a burro was and had never heard the word ass in the context of a donkey.

Theology of Language

I did tell her how butt and crack were words that referred to ass and how buttock is the correct term for a rear-end. She was already familiar with the words penis and vagina, names we chose to use with them when they were toddlers. It seemed appropriate to end our first language training session with those five words, though I did let her know we would revisit this conversation in the future as we look at more of the culture’s words. The main thing I wanted her to learn was not the words as much as the wisdom, respect, discretion, humility, and courage needed to think biblically about our culture’s language.

We spent a lot of time talking about the theology of language and how words begin with a neutral and innocuous fact. Words are made alive and given force by the presupposition, motive, and meaning we give to them. Our presupposition is the lens through which we bring meaning to a word. Motive determines how we use a word. We derive the meaning from the interpretation attached to the word. The word Trinity is neutral to a two-year-old who has never heard the word. But after you teach the child how the Trinity is a way of thinking about God, the word is animated. To the God-lover, it is incredibly, wonderfully, amazingly, and overwhelmingly stupendous.

You could use the word switch as an analogy for words. A switch is just a switch, nothing more and nothing less, except when my father told me to go out and get a switch from a tree so he could beat me with it. A switch was no longer neutral to me. The past abuse of a switch in my life affects how I think about a switch. You may understand a switch differently, as a utilitarian device to turn lights on and off. Though electrical switches were part of my childhood, too, there was a darker, more dangerous application of the word switch. Typically, the first person to define the word will have more influence over how a child thinks about the word.

Take Crap, for Example

Thomas Crapper became a famous plumber in London circa 1900. He did not invent the flush toilet, but he did invent the ballcock, and his name was on many of the manhole covers throughout London. He was known for being a plumber. His name has since become synonymous with a bowel movement. I suspect most of you have heard the phrase, “I’m going to take a crap.” Suppose I was a famous plumber circa 1900, and my name became synonymous with toilet paraphernalia. Today, people would say, “I’m going to take a thom,” and some people would think that kind of talk is crude, uncouth, and unsophisticated.

But they might use the words crapper and crap, or maybe they would give a child the word Crappy as a nickname, and it would not sound wrong to anyone. Someone may say, “I’m going to knock the ‘thom’ out of you,” and it would sound harsh, and perhaps a fight would ensue. A few of our good Christian folk would be offended by such language as Thomas or Thom. Language evolves, and what once was is no more. How we interpret words (meaning) and use words (motive) affects how we think about and react to them. Some of the old Puritan writers talked about intercourse with God. We do not talk that way today for obvious reasons.

The King James Bible tells about bastard children (Hebrews 12:8) and pissing on a wall (1 Samuel 25:22), but those words have evolved to the point where it is considered archaic, crass, and crude to use them. Understanding the motives and intentions behind words should free our consciences to teach our children a theology of bad words. Suppose your motivations were right, and your intentions were pure. If so, then you are the perfect person to teach your children bad words. You are not trying to hurt or twist your child but to free your child from cultural terminology and temptations. Is your conscience free to lead your child through bad language? Are you mature enough to teach your child curse words?

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What Are You Exporting?

Paul talked about giving grace to those who hear, which is a vital truth when thinking about words. Does your language give grace? Do your words build up? Are your words redemptive? What are you trying to export to your children? Our children learned not only the words of our culture and what they mean but also how and when to use the world’s language. It takes more maturity to use words correctly and biblically than to use them harmfully. You can walk through any crowded public venue and realize that people do not know how to use words redemptively. They know words, but they do not know how to use them to build up others.

This abuse of words should motivate any parent to take the lead in language learning. If you do not teach them the culture’s words and their meanings, plus the motives behind them, the surrogate cultural parents, i.e., social media, who have no shame or discretion, will do your job. Your children will not always watch G and PG movies or live in a G and PG world. The Christian parent hopes that when the world comes knocking, their children will not be vulnerable to its temptations or terminology but will be able to intelligently, humbly, courageously, and wisely engage in the culture while not succumbing to it.

Worldly Addendum

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world (1 John 2:15-16).

You cannot talk about words without talking about worldliness. Worldliness—biblically defined—is not so much in the world as it is in our hearts. John was clear in his first epistle about how worldliness is inside of us, not outside of us. (See also James 1:14-15.) John identifies worldliness as desires and pride, not some object or thing in our culture. Words are not worldly things in our culture unless our evil hearts take them and make them wrong by uploading evil motives for evil purposes. As cultures and epochs change, so do our words. The careful Christian is in tune with the culture in which they live and uses words that are fitting to being a Christian in that culture.

Call to Action

  1. Do not be hung up about words. Words are words. You do not have to giggle when you say penis, and you do not have to feel as though you have gotten away with something when you say damn.
  2. Consider your audience. Do your words uplift and build up, or do they degrade and tear down? The gospel is more about others than about us. Always think of others. Never use your freedom as a right to do as you please.
  3. What is your motive? When you speak, make sure the gospel saturates your heart. Let the words of your mouth come from a heart treasure that has been marinating in the gospel. If so, your speech will be redemptive.
  4. Are you a crude dude? Regularly give yourself sober assessments. What feedback have those closest to you given you? How do they perceive, understand, and think about your speech patterns?
  5. Have your words weighed. Most people will not give honest and critical feedback about the deeper matters of the heart. You will have to pursue it. Do not be afraid to seek out your friends to serve you with their assessment of your speech patterns.
  6. Are you an encourager? Do the people around you feel more encouraged or discouraged after spending time with you? How does your speech affect others? Are you characterized as a redemptive builder by your words?

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