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.
There are certain lines dividing interactions between parents and children that should remain static. Cursing should not be allowed on any level. It seems that we live at a time when the fabric of respect between adults and children is becoming weaker and weaker. What happens when a kid is not just casually dropping curse words but cursing out a parent in anger?
I don’t think it is wise or necessary to allow a child to curse in conversations with his or her parents in order to maintain a great relationship. Interacting with your child as a “peer” or a “friend” is a huge mistake, and although it may not be evident at this juncture, it sets a bad precedent not only for the familial relationship but also for the wider issue of what’s accepted in our society as a whole.
Teaching kids at an early age about language and how to use words wisely is important and reflects on their upbringing. I think it’s an important skill to teach children to use their cognitive ability to come up with better words to enhance their communication skills.
This issue was at the forefront of disgust and sadness for me as a recently retired English teacher. It was so upsetting to hear young teenagers use vile curse words at teachers for being asked to stop texting or fooling around in class. Pity the unsuspecting substitute teacher whom I have witnessed being called the worst names you can imagine. Were these students ever taught about how hurtful curse words can be?
Of course my granddaughter Lauren is sweet, intelligent and always respectful, kind and beautiful, inside and out—a true testament to my daughter and son-in-law’s upbringing. She has never said a curse word around me, and as Aliya says, she never would. However, I’m still concerned. I believe that boundaries must still be set early on in relationships between parents and children that firmly establish who the ultimate authority figure is.
I also have an 18-year-old grandson who has lived with me in the past and is more like a son. He knows better than to curse around me, but it slips out sometimes, especially if he is talking with his friends and I’m in close proximity. He always says, “Oops, sorry, Grandma,” and gives me a peck on the cheek. I like that he recognizes what he did was wrong.
This issue boils down to respect and is probably a matter of the maturity of your child and how much freedom you feel your child can handle without becoming disrespectful. It’s a slippery slope and requires judgment on the parents’ part because once the dialogue of communication is established, it will be impossible to rein in if it does not work out.
For me, the entire idea of respect should be kept intact, even for modern generations. Whether it’s greeting elders, using proper titles, dressing properly for events, or just saying “please” and “thank you,” I’m not ready to believe that respect is going out of style.
Aliya S. King, a native of East Orange, N.J., is the author of two novels and three nonfiction books, including the New York Times best-seller Keep the Faith, written with recording artist Faith Evans. She lives with her husband and two daughters in New Jersey. Find her on Twitter and at aliyasking.com.
Aliya S. King, a native of East Orange, N.J., is the author of two novels and three nonfiction books, including the New York Times best-seller Keep the Faith, written with recording artist Faith Evans. She lives with her husband and two daughters in New Jersey. Find her on Twitter and at her website. Rita Moore King, mother of three grown folks, is originally from Newark, N.J., and has made East Orange, N.J., her home for the last 40 years. Prior to her recent retirement as an English teacher at East Orange Campus High School, she advised the school’s book club for 12 years. Her goal is to publish her first children's book, A Fake Moon in a Real Sky, an idea inspired by her granddaughter Emmy.