Dear Grandparenting: Just when you think you’ve heard it all, my granddaughter comes along and asks me what the worst swear word is. The girl is eight years old.
I just sat there until she started back up. “It’s damn,” she announced. “Oh really,” I said. “Why is that?”
I was secretly pleased she hadn’t chosen something more offensive. “Because the older kids in school say the F word and the S word all the time, but they never say damn.”
She spoke with the assurance of someone who had cracked the code for bad language and couldn’t wait to jump in with both feet — if she hasn’t already. I might be the old fuddy-duddy, but it bothers me that children are so focused on these dirty words. I never had to resort to swearing to get my point across. Is it a hopeless cause to think my little princess won’t wind up cussing like a sailor? Mary Ann Plant, Bristol, Tennessee
Dear Mary Ann: Grandparents familiar with Art Linkletter’s 1950’s and 60’s radio and TV shows may recall his unscripted and unpredictable children’s interview segments called “Kids Say the Darndest Things”.
That would be risky business today. Research shows that many kids know a swear word at age two and can hold their own with adults before they are teens.
Adults are actually the leading culprits here, since children mimic and model the language they are exposed to. The Internet, television and the world at large are filled with expletives, but the biggest influence is the adult language kids are exposed to at home.
Improved parental behavior is one way to discourage swearing, as is monitoring a grandchild’s TV and Internet usage. Adults who don’t overreact to outbursts are simultaneously preventing more of the same; when words get extra attention, children retain them for future use.
Consider the grandchild’s age. Younger grandchildren who swear may have no idea what they are in fact saying. Older children who willfully swear are another matter and may require discipline. The old cure of a bar of ivory soap inserted into the offending mouth is an experience not soon forgotten. Take it from us.
Grand remark of the week
Lyn Lewis from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, weighed in with some good advice: “Since grandchildren are great imitators, I put on my best self when we’re together to give them something positive to shoot for.”
Dee and Tom, married more than 50 years, have eight grandchildren. Together with Key, they welcome questions, suggestions and Grand Remarks of the Week. Send to P.O. Box 27454, Towson, MD, 21285. Call 410-963-4426.