My daughter Lauren, who will be 19 next month, is a first-year college student. She’s incredibly mature for her age and always has been. From the time she was a very young child, I noticed that she saw the world differently from most kids in her peer group. She was incredibly self-possessed and able to process adult concepts at a time when other kids were trying to remember how to tie their shoes. Because of this, I’ve always talked to her as a peer and an equal (cue the screams of parents who think this is a huge mistake).
I’ve always been frank and direct with her. And I’ve talked to her the same way I would talk to my friends. And by the time she was in high school, this included dropping a curse word or two if the conversation warranted it. While Lauren didn’t pepper her speech with profanity when she was a younger teenager, she does now, and it doesn’t bother me at all.
I called Lauren at school last weekend to check on her. She told me she was participating in a conference, and I could hear a bit of discomfort in her voice. I asked her what was wrong, and she whispered, “They put the wrong name on my f–king name tag and they won’t print out another one!”
The curse word in that sentence did what it was supposed to: It let me know that this was a serious thing and she was considerably upset about it. I’m sure that many people would think it’s a sign of disrespect that Lauren felt comfortable enough to drop the f-bomb in a conversation with me.
It didn’t bother me in the slightest. She’s 18. She’s an adult. And with the way she’s carried herself throughout her life thus far, she’s never been disrespectful to me, and she’s always known her place and how to behave depending on the setting. Of course, she’d never use any kind of profanity around my mom or other elders—or even my friends. She knows that most parents do not allow their children to use profanity in front of them, and because of that, she’s careful about when a little salty language pops out.
(I should state for the record that my husband is not down with the cursing. He doesn’t like it when Lauren lets out an occasional curse word, and he calls her on it each time and lets her know he’s not having it. )
Having an 18-year-old daughter in this society is fraught with so many concerns and worries. Is she having sex? If so, is she making the right decisions? Does she feel good about herself? Is she safe at school? Is she overwhelmed? Is she drinking? Is she smoking? Is she using drugs? Is she being negatively influenced? You can’t put your head down at night without worrying about something. The last thing I’m concerned about is Lauren being her true, authentic self when she’s talking to me. If letting a curse word slip out occasionally while we’re talking is the worst thing I’ll have to deal with—I’ll consider myself lucky.
The words Lauren uses are not an arbiter of respect—at least not as far as I’m concerned. I evaluate Lauren’s level of respect differently. I’m satisfied if she’s honest, forthright, courteous, thoughtful and becoming a productive member of society. I know that for many of us, something like verbiage is part of a greater conversation about what it means to respect your elders in the modern age. (Things like texting in front of your parents, talking back and even closing your bedroom door are all behaviors that our previous generation didn’t condone, under the blanket idea of respect.)
I think that barometer needs to shift. It’s not for every family, and your mileage may vary. But for my daughter and me, the words we use to communicate just aren’t a huge issue. I’ll admit this, though: If my 8-year-old starts dropping f-bombs in casual conversation, I’ll be reaching for a bar of soap.