Kid-and adult-vulgarity is on the rise with breakdown of respect, civility and prosocial behaviors as consequences. Solutions for home and school to stop profanity and bring back civility and how students are taking matters in their own hands with “No Cussing Clubs.”
We generally equate childhood with innocence, so it can come as quite a shock when a foul word escapes from the mouth of our sweet little darling. Though “vocabulary experimenting” is typical, (after all, a big way our kids learn is by imitating others and there’s a lot of profanity for kids to hear these days-from movies, to CDs, to television, and public places. In fact, 60[i] percent of adults admit they swear in public. The problem is cussing is seeping into our kids’ culture and increasing: over 80 percent of Americans feel vulgarity is getting worse. What’s more, several studies show that all that cussing is adversely affecting our kids’ attitudes and behaviors as well as their school climates. Read on…
The Reality Check-What Research Says
Brigham Young University conducted a study of middle-school Midwestern students to determine the amount of exposure they had to profane and violent TV and video games as well as the students’ attitudes and behavior about profanity and aggression toward others. The researchers found the more profanity kids are exposed to through television and video games, the more accepting they are of swearing and the more likely they are to use swearing themselves.
Lead researcher, Sarah Coyne and her colleagues also discovered that those kids who swore more were also more likely to engage in physical aggression themselves. “Profanity is kind of like a stepping stone,” Coyne said. “You don’t go to a movie, hear a bad word, and then go shoot somebody. But when youth both hear and then try profanity out for themselves it can start a downward slide toward more aggressive behavior.”
But TV, video games, movies and song lyrics aren’t our kids’ only source of profanity. The content of the books your teen is reading may surprise you. Coyne also analyzed the use of profanity in 40 books on a teen bestsellers list and found them ripe with foul-mouthed characters.On average, popular teen novels contain 38 instances of profanity from cover to cover and swearing is pervasive, present in 88 percent (or 35 out of 40) of those bestsellers. According to a BYU press release, “that translates to almost seven instances of profanity per hour spent reading.” Coyne also found that “characters who swore were depicted by the authors as having “Higher social status, better looks and more money.”
New “No Cussing Club” Movement at Schools
Swearing can become a hard to break habit that taints children’s reputations, breaks down their character, can increase aggression, and ruins family harmony. Once kids are allowed to swear, their habit goes public. And there’s the problem–kid swearing has become a big problem in our schools. Educators cite that the use of swearing and obscene gestures has increased dramatically on school campuses which can break down a safe and caring learning environment and respect. Here are just a few troublesome findings:
Educators are so exasperated that some high schools now fine students if they utter profanity on school premises.
Use of swearing and obscene gestures is increasing dramatically on school campuses.
59 percent of teachers in urban schools and 40 percent in rural areas said they daily face swearing and obscene gestures from students.
A USA Today poll of high school principals found that 89 percent regularly deal with profane language and provocative insults toward teachers or other students.
Now the good news: Schools are taking active measures to curb student swearing and bring back those glorious virtues of respect courtesy.There is a positive new student movement brewing: high school campuses are instituting “No Cussing Clubs.” Nearly 100 registered clubs are now nationwide. So far, 50,000 people have pledged through www.no-cussing to clean up their language.
The original “No Cussing Club” was founded in Pasadena, California in 2007 by McKay Hatch, a 14-year old who was plain fed up with peer swearing. (There’s a kid who deserves an CNN American Hero nomination, eh?) Pass McKay’s story on to your students (and show a video on his story).
“I am 14 years old. I’m just a regular kid. I like to play soccer, play video games, hang out with my friends, etc. I started the No Cussing Club at my junior high school in South Pasadena, California. A lot of kids at my school, and some of my friends, would cuss and use dirty language all the time. They did it so much, they didn’t even realize they were doing it. It bothered me so much that one day I challenged them to stop! They were shocked. They didn’t even realize how much they were doing it until I said something. I was actually surprised at how they reacted; they accepted my No Cussing Challenge. But some of the kids said they didn’t know how to stop. That’s when I started the No Cussing Club.”
A month later, McKay had 50 members sign up in middle school. Once at high school the faculty gave him permission to start an official “no cussing club.” At the school’s regular “club rush day,” 100 students joined. Two weeks later, the club set a goal to get members in every state to sign up on their No Cussing Club website and six months later they had members in all 50 states. Membership has spread to 20,000 members around the world (and counting).. Their motto is simple, “Leave People Better Than You Found Them.” The club even started a “No Cussing Club Challenge” which invites kids to change the world one word at a time.
High schools are joining McKay’s cause. Two years ago students in Palm Desert High School in Southern California signed a pledge in June to start a club at their high school. When school reopens students wore orange club T-shirts to school and represent a positive force on that campus.
Other high schools are putting jars around campuses and asking kids who cuss to drop in a coin. The money will be donated to local charities. Some schools have students making posters to remind their peers to watch their language. A few student-made signs I’ve seen on school walls: “No Swearing: This is a civil place.” “Watch your words-this is a place of learning!”
I applaud the efforts of those teachers and students to restore civility to their campuses. But let’s also make sure we instate “No Cuss Clubs” in our homes as well. After all, the best way to stop swearing is to nip it in the bud from the get go, and teach your child healthier ways to vent their frustrations.
“Stop Cussing” at Home Solutions
Regardless of the prevalence, it certainly doesn’t mean you should allow profanity to become part of your children’s everyday vocabulary—and most especially so if those words are aimed in anger at a particular person. Here are a few parenting strategies from my book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions that you might wish to consider using in your home. Remember: changing any habit takes commitment and time. Stick with your commitment. This makeover is all about nurturing respect and civility and fighting an all-to racy, raunchy culture.
Curb Your Tongue
Be honest. Are you at all responsible for your child’s new raunchy vocabulary? If so put a restraining order on any older sibling or adult in your home who is swearing.
Have Value Talks
Talk to your child about your family values and explain why you object to such language. “I know other people may use those words in their homes, but we don’t in ours.” “Those are words that can hurt people’s feelings. I expect you to always want to say and do things that make people feel good.”
Establish Your House as “No Swear” Zone
Set a rule that “no swearing” is allowed in your home. Just be clear with all family members which words are considered “off limits” and then be follow through on your rule (mom and dad –as well as their adult friends—must obey the home standards.
Offer Appropriate Word Substitutes
If your child swears to let off steam, doesn’t know an appropriate way to vent, it may be time for a family brainstorm session to find swear words alternates. Just identify the word your child may not say and then think of other word options. Then use it until it becomes a habit.
Reinforce “Cuss-Control” Efforts
Do acknowledge any efforts your child is making to stop the swearing. “I know that you were frustrated, but you didn’t swear that time. It’s hard changing a bad habit, but you’re really trying.”
Set a Consequence If Problem Continues
If you’ve been clear with your expectations, yet the swearing still continues, then it’s time to set a consequence. Here are things to do for “repeat offenders.”
Create a swear jar. Each time the child (and any member of the family—dad and mom as well) swears he is fined and must put a set amount of money in a jar. When filled, donate the money to a charity of your choice. For kids short on money, post a list of chores that can be done to work off the fine. Do not loan your child money to pay off the fine. It will defeat the purpose.
Lose a privilege.“If you can’t talk nicely in the family room, you will go to your room.” Or lose a privilege. “If you can’t talk appropriately in this house, you will not be able to use your cell phone.”
Learn a new word: My favorite consequence is to make the offender use the dictionary to look up a more appropriate word to replace the offensive one. The child must then use the word at least ten (or some set amount) times during the day and could also be required to write to word on an index card to teach to other family members. Not only are you eliminating curse words but you’re also increasing your child’s vocabulary skills.
Stay On Top of the Ratings Game
Studies show the media does affect our children’s values, language and behavior. A Florida State University study found that profanity during prime time hours has increased 58[v] percent in four years – nearly nine out of 10 those programs contained profane words. So check those advisory ratings carefully listed on those CDs, DVDs, television shows, video games, movies and books, and then be clear to your child which ratings are unacceptable to your family values.
Here is a quick review of the four ratings and how language is portrayed in each category:
G No cursing, but some crude language is fine if it’s considered to be an everyday expression.
PG Minimal profanity (except words like ass, damn, crap, and even shit), but not the F-word or other harsh, sexually driven words.
PG13 The F-word can be used only once—but not at all if it’s used in a sexual context-unless a two-thirds majority of the raters think it’s okay because of how the word is used.
R Hard language. Should be off-limits if you’re eliminating profanity
A 40 year-old dad from Orange County told me at one of my parent workshops: “My son accidentally left his CD in the car stereo that was loaded with the F-word. That evening we went through his CD collection. If any CD had a Parental Advisory label, it was dumped as well as inappropriate songs from his MP3 player. I told him to expect a random CD check every so often. He finally got the message that our family didn’t approve of that kind of language.”
Tips from this blog were adapted from the chapter, “Swearing” in my book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries.
You can also refer to my daily blog, Dr. Borba’s Reality Check for ongoing parenting solutions and late-breaking news and research about child development.
J. Elish, “Cover Your Ears! Profanity on the Rise in Prime Time,” Florida State University, publisher on FSU.com, Nov. 30, 2004.