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Cursing may indicate intelligence

Contributing writer

Cursing may indicate intelligence

It's not unusual for kids to have a “potty mouth” or use inappropriate words. But no parent wants to deal with the embarrassment of an F-bomb slipping from your child's mouth at church or back-to-school night. (Thinkstock)
Thinkstock

A scientific study challenges the popular notion that people swear because they are dumb or low-class or lack anything intelligent to say. Researchers in New York found that a large vocabulary of curse words shows a bigger vocabulary overall. A study published in the journal Language Sciences asserts, “A voluminous taboo lexicon may better be considered an indicator of healthy verbal abilities rather than a cover for their deficiencies.”

However, you likely don't want your kid cursing up a storm in inappropriate settings. 

It’s not unusual for kids to have a “potty mouth” or use inappropriate words. But no parent wants to deal with the embarrassment of an F-bomb slipping from your child’s mouth at church or back-to-school night.

Parents need to teach their kids about the improper use of bad language, from swear words to words that are considered insulting, like “retard,” “gay” and “stupid,” all of which are mostly learned from parents, older siblings or at school, says Dr. Catherine Pearlman, an Orange County family therapist, licensed clinical social worker and assistant professor of social work at Brandman University.

Pearlman says she receives many calls from parents worried that their kids are repeating a swear or taboo word that the child heard from an adult. Pearlman, whose own kids are 10 and 13, noted that it’s unavoidable for kids to hear them. Once, she says, she let a curse word fly while backing up her car and hitting a cement pole with her kids in the backseat. “My kids heard it. They were a little older so they know I don’t curse, but it happens.”

Still, she says, “It’s not appropriate for a 4-year-old to be cursing. They don’t know what it means, but they get a reaction or attention.” 

Swearing is harmful when bad words are directed at someone as a form of insulting or bullying, Pearlman adds, noting that it can also be a form of expressing anger. 

How parents deal with bad language can depend on the child’s age. Here are some tips for parents from Pearlman, who is writing a parenting book coming out this summer called, “Ignore It! How Selectively Looking the Other Way Can Decrease Behavioral Problems and Increase Parenting Satisfaction”: 

Preschoolers and kids in elementary school

“For younger kids 10 and under, the best thing is to ignore it. Any reaction is just reinforcing it for them to continue to use the word. If it has no impact or effect, it will stop,” she says. “If they are cursing at people like their teacher or grandma and saying F you, that needs to be addressed. That’s a time-out moment, but only if they are directing it toward somebody versus just saying it.”

If the child is cursing in anger, deal with the underlying issue. Teach kids not to use words like “retard.” Explain how it is used in a negative way to hurt people. Suggest alternate words like goofball or knucklehead. 

If parents want their kids to stop cursing, they need to quit, too. Get a “swear jar” for use by kids who seem unaware when bad words fly out of their mouths. Parents should also pay up when they use a cuss word. The parent puts money in the swear jar for each offense, and the kids get to use the cash to rent a movie. 

Tweens and teens

Don’t overreact or worry so much. Consider bad language a sign of development, as long as they know the time and place for using such words. “If you read any teen’s texts, most parents would be horrified by the language they use. The language can be really strong, and it’s a matter of them learning to express themselves and differentiate themselves from their parents,” Pearlman says. Most teens know when it’s OK to swear and when not to, she says.

Context matters. “It’s not an issue until it’s an issue,” Dr. Pearlman says. “If it becomes a way of expressing anger in inappropriate places or becomes a tool for bullying, then it does need to be addressed.” Explain why it’s wrong and teach tolerance. 

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