Have you ever thought about what we call in our society “bad words” and what makes them bad?
For the most part, our “bad words” refer to unpleasant bodily functions, sex, or sexual organs. And much like other societal norms, they are more interested in the offended’s sex life than in actually being offensive.
That being said, let’s keep things in context. You do have to live in a society and you probably don’t want letters home about your child’s potty mouth. So, yes, you should explain when and where societal “bad words” can be used.
We have house rules here.
We don’t yell. We don’t call each other names. We don’t use oppressive language.
Those things, in the scheme of life, are “bad words.” Those are the words that literally hurt people. Those words stick to people and in some cases, can cause low level trauma. Over time, it can change a person’s view of themselves.
Think about it. Think about the difference between “That was a shitty choice” and “you are shit.” Those are two completely different meanings that leave the person with two opposing thoughts. The first one, “That was a shitty choice,” makes the person spoken to think about the choice they just made. Though they might defend their choice or not, it’s an opinion about a choice that can open a conversation or help someone with decision making. No, that’s not the only way to say that.
But “you are shit” is calling someone feces. That’s a horrible thing to say to someone… anyone. That strips a person of their dignity. That can make someone feel as worthless as a pile of poo in the backyard. And those kinds of feelings don’t make the person think better or do better… it just creates trauma or shame. (For more on shame, refer always to the queen Brene Brown)
When you’re talking about a person to your children, think about what you’re saying. Calling people offensive names can create a theory in a young person that some people are “better” than others, or that some people are not “worthy.” Any and every conversation, even if you’re upset with a person, should include a baseline of humanity and dignity.
If you think about where we are in this world right now with how people treat each other, review how people speak to young people about others. Think about how you group people as “those people” and whether you use derogatory speech around groups, such as a religion you don’t align with or people who live in certain areas.
We work on this all the time and always have. Our kids are big now and sometimes, a word will slip out of frustration. That’s ok. But they don’t call people names or use derogatory terminology. It’s just not acceptable.
When they were young, if they came home using language that was oppressive, we talked about what it meant and how it impacts others, even the speaker of the mean word. Don’t discount that; the speaker, even if the oppressed person is not around, is changing their mind about someone if they can use de-humanizing speech about them.
I think all of us could reflect on this a little. Do we need to punish older kids for using a “ouch” word or a word of frustration? I don’t think so. But oppressive language just can’t fly. It won’t take us forward.