Swear words and kids

Have you ever noticed how many of our swear words have to do with sex and private parts?


Most of us use swear words rarely, reserving them for moments when we really need to get someone’s attention.  Since it’s so far outside our norms to be talking about sex, private parts, or excretion, those words really stand out, and maybe that’s how we got here.


“In its older, more literal sense, “profanity” refers to a lack of respect for things that are held to be sacred, which implies anything inspiring deserving of reverence.”  That’s a quote from Wikipedia.  Sex and private parts are sacred and deserve reverence.  Let that contradiction sink in for a moment.


Explaining to your child about swear words is often a sex-ed conversation.  So what do you say if your child asks what “the F word” means?


As with all questions, take a moment to calm yourself before answering.  Stall a bit by acknowledging your child’s question (“I wondered about that too when I was your age…”) and dig for context.  Why is he/she asking that question?  What does he/she think it means?  Decide if the circumstances are right for this conversation, and if they are, try to answer truthfully and briefly.


Beyond defining the word, this is a great opportunity to talk about anger and nuance.  If that’s too much for your young child, you can skip it, but your pre-teen or adolescent is hungry for these discussions.


Some people use swear words casually, and then they lose their power to express strong feelings, but for most of us, saying “Fuck You!” is a very strong statement of anger and frustration.  Often we do this for shock value, to get people’s attention that something is really wrong.  As with all angry outbursts, it stems from a feeling of powerlessness and a need to reassert control.  If you can help that person feel heard and powerful, you can turn that anger, and maybe towards good.


Then there’s nuance.  When not used in anger, “Fuck” means to have sex, but in a selfish, disconnected way.  It’s the opposite of making love or having a spiritual connection – it’s all about one person’s pleasure.  On top of that, it’s usually used in a degrading way, as a way to take control of someone else’s body, as if they don’t have a right to their body and feelings.


After you’ve given your one minute answer, connect it back to your child’s context and ask your child a question.  “Have you ever felt powerless and angry?” or “Has anyone ever treated you like your body or feelings didn’t matter?”  See if you can get a discussion going based on your child’s experiences.


And that kid who’s swearing all the time?  They’re likely venting anger or seeking attention (or both!).  A good place to start is Special Time.  Not sure what that is?  Listen to Patty Wipfler’s interview for the 2017 Talking To Kids About Sex Interview Series.  The series is going on all this month, and it’s totally free.  Join us!


In support of you,



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