Foul Play, I Swear!

The challenges of raising fine young wo(men) in an expanding world of offensive language.

With the long holiday weekend, we had the pleasure of hanging out with a number of families in the mountains enjoying the relaxation invoked by the woods, mill pond, and sounds of nature.

Over the course of many meals, cocktails, and more meals, we were all catching up on the happenings since last time.

One of the couples was sharing about the family dynamic around their daughter’s boyfriend and that the rest of the family didn’t like him. Ultimately what it came down to was a lack of social graces. He didn’t know how to be with people and interact well with the family. He didn’t have good manners. 

As I strive to instill in our two teens, though currently on seemingly deaf ears, the value of curtsey, manners, chivalry, and the like, I try to impart that the "small things" are not always so small and that our futures can be opened or closed by others based on their opinion of us.

The conversation about the boyfriend got me thinking about something I’ve noticed for a while now; the normalizing and expansion of swear words in mainstream language.

Maybe my age and East Coast roots are showing but when I was growing up, there seemed to be a handful of clearly defined words that were off limits and if/when we used them, we really hoped no adult was within earshot. 

Now it seems that list is greatly expanded, both in number as well as age of use. Among the many are words like "suck" (the not-so-new but normalized "S" word) and "ho" that are entrenched and peppered throughout popular music, movies, books, such that teens and even grade schoolers use them easily or view them more as slang. 

Coupled with a rudeness quotient that seems to be increasing, some days it feels like civility and good manners go against the "cool" factor or get tossed in the "old-fashioned" bucket.

Does prevalence mean it’s been accepted as okay? While I hated the lemming question as a kid, “If your friends were all jumping off the cliff, would you?” the wisdom of those words and the consequences of our actions are ever true today. I wonder, sometimes, if the anonymity of our expanding world makes it easier for kids (or adults) to be disrespectful. 

Does being cool and hip mean good manners are old fashioned, a thing of the past?

Carrie Vawter-Yousfi July 11, 2012 at 09:46 PM
Nope, I think good manners needs to stay in place and taught my parents and enforced by society. A great reminder we all have something to say but how we say it is most inportant. What kids say, how they behave and I would add be respectable with time is more important than ever! Thx, Coach Carrie
Anne-Michelle July 11, 2012 at 10:09 PM
My husband is extremely adamant about me not using swear words, even when the children aren't around, when it's just the two of us, and I'm angry about something. There is no time that swear words are okay with him. The kids, though, that's a different story. They pick up on the craziest sayings on TV, and the newest one in our house is "Shut the front door." Sure, it doesn't sound bad at first, but when they say it in lieu of "shutup", it becomes a socially acceptable way of saying the same thing. So much of it has to do with social influences, and while I don't agree with it, I am having a very difficult finding the appropriate punishment for my children by which they'll LEARN from. When I was a child and I said the word "ass", there was no question it was a BAD word. Now, you hear it left and right, it's in the name of popular songs, and it's heard on regular TV. I'd love to hear suggestions from others as to how I can curb this behavior that's so mainstream! Thanks for making me think about it!
Pat Zahn July 11, 2012 at 10:29 PM
While everyone's threshold for certain words is different, I agree that good manners should never be considered old fashioned. I believe it's a pattern of self-absorption that has become epidemic. If you are aware of and care about others then you will be mindful of where you are and behave with respect.
Jennifer Croll July 11, 2012 at 10:51 PM
Great article! Its something more parents should address.
Lenore Sanborn July 12, 2012 at 12:38 AM
Great comments & discussion! I agree with all of the points so far, especially the idea that it is up to the parents to serve as a social compass or guide. I also agree with Anne-Michelle that as a parent, it can feel like our efforts are ineffectual in the context of greater society where these days, as the song says, "anything goes." And while I try to hold onto my parenting cool & consistency, what do you do when your teen stares you in the face and simply says, "so?" or "no" in response to your admonishment/consequences? A tricky point that Pat (HI PAT! <3 ) brings up about good manners being a matter of respect: YES, when we care & respect people, we truly do try not to offend them. It can be tricky to navigate this varying social landscape of different values and cultures, however, when the values I grow up with directly conflict with others', such that we can unwittingly offend the people we deeply respect simply because we don't have the same point of reference. (like the use of "suck" that Tamara mentions) In short, manners are always appreciated but the implementation & re-enforcement of those manners can be a tricky task!
Sheila Gall July 12, 2012 at 02:10 AM
Tamara I couldn't agree with you more ! I grew up right here , and we would always have respect for elders . We didn't have the nerve to act like that in front of anyones parents cool or not .Great subject thanks !
Dyan Chan July 12, 2012 at 06:26 AM
Yes, the list of offensive words and phrases does seem to have expanded, and I think the proliferation of media is a huge part of the problem. I also agree that the disrespect kids demonstrate toward both adults and other kids is troubling, and also propagated by the media. Of course, we adults are affected by the media as well, which probably hasn't helped many of us as we try to model respectful behavior and language. I see plenty of adults treating others with disrespect!
Jane Darwin July 12, 2012 at 01:35 PM
There is a time and place for most everything. I hope I helped my children to know good manners and when they could let their hair down with their friends. I read somewhere recently that employers are having a difficult time with younger hires with what are appropriate office :manners. With some much effort put towards lessening "harrasement" behaviors I find it strange how often these behaviors still happen because not all younger people know the difference.between the right social behavior in various settings. Are we spending to much time making our children feel good about themselves rather than having them learn how to make other people feel at ease around them?
Larry Arzie July 12, 2012 at 04:29 PM
Like many bad habit , they often start at home. I grew up in a working class family that used more %&#@ing bad words than our priest. In our bilingual spanish family I knew all the words in both languages. The only person who didn't swear was my maternal grandmother, who literally used lye soap to wash my mouth out. It tasted just like cilantro and every time I swear I have flash back taste in my mouth. I wont go near cilantro today. She as well grabbed my ear and twisted it so hard that it stayed red for days. It soon became socially unacceptable to swear and living with a prude helped to break the habit, almost.
Jeanne Rajabzadeh July 12, 2012 at 06:19 PM
I agree with Dyan and Jane. We are all exposed to offensive language more than ever before. Children and young adults need to be reminded that there is a time and place for everything. Teens and college graduates entering the work force will not be taken seriously for job placement or advancement if their everyday conversation is peppered with swear words. As adults we must practice what we preach.
Tamara Archer July 12, 2012 at 10:37 PM
I agree it starts at home and is taught by parents. I would hope it gets reinforced and supported by society though as many comments below reflect, the different cultures and values provide a fairly wide continuum.
Tamara Archer July 12, 2012 at 10:56 PM
It's definitely a challenge and one we still contend with. Couple things come to mind with your comment. 1. We've made it clear that it doesn't matter what goes on or what the rules are in other homes; these are the rules and expectations for our family. 2. We believe in natural and logical consequences coupled with working with their specific 'currency', be it technology, privileges, privacy etc. Instead of losing something for a defined period of time, we shifted to them earning the privilege back when they shift their behavior. So it went from "you've lost xyz for the next two days" to "you can have xyz back when you can be respectful for the next two days (or fill in appropriate hour(s), day(s), week etc) If the behavior occurred in that same time frame, the clock started over. So it took us out of the role as bad guys and enforcers and shifted to power to them. They were in charge of how long it took to regain the privilege. There's certainly volumes written on parenting styles and tips but this one has made a difference for us and taken the arguing and anger out of the equation because expectations were set in advance when everyone was calm and not in the midst of it. Would love to hear other suggestions!
Tamara Archer July 12, 2012 at 10:57 PM
Well said, thanks for your comment.
Tamara Archer July 12, 2012 at 11:10 PM
You bring up a good point. I asked my Mom early on how she got the 4 of us to do what we were told to do. Her answer was very simple, "We told you what was going to happen if you didn't and we followed through ~ every time." I know it's easier said than done, that 'every time' can be daunting at times. While she was much stricter than I want to be raising our children, the simplicity and effectiveness was undeniable. I believe that kids should have a voice and be able to contribute an opinion, but ultimately the responsibility and final decision is with the parent. They're the boss and I think at times we can give too much power and too big a vote to the kids. There are other ways to foster independence and self confidence. great comment,
Tamara Archer July 12, 2012 at 11:17 PM
Boy that's a big one. There's also the 'line' between art and 'not' or upholding the right to freedom of speech. Ultimately it comes down to a very personal choice. Who we want to be/come, how we want to live, and what values will guide us. Back to some of the earlier comments, I agree, it starts at home and consistent role modeling. Thanks for your comment!
Tamara Archer July 12, 2012 at 11:42 PM
That's a GREAT question. It seems such a 'not common sense' that the more we put our attention on others, the better we feel and the better we feel about ourselves... self-confidence, respect, capacity, just to name a few qualities, all go up. The more we give away, so to speak, the more we get back.
JBR July 12, 2012 at 11:44 PM
I liked your story and the ending --- living with a prude --- like us.
Tamara Archer July 12, 2012 at 11:44 PM
Thanks for the humor and comment. I'm chuckling :)
Tamara Archer July 12, 2012 at 11:56 PM
It's certainly harder to change a habit the older we get so younger is better. Our kids are ever diligent regarding 'practice what you preach' to point out when we slip on our rules... Thanks for your comment
Kathy Sturr July 13, 2012 at 03:39 AM
I think in general, there's definitely a lack of disrespect from most of the youth these days, regardless of whether they're using "swear words" or not, though I think their attitude crosses many avenues. I've been in clients' homes and been appalled at the way they speak to their mothers, and even more shocking, the way they speak to me and their mother's don't seem to recognize how disrespectful it is. I think there's becoming such a sense of entitlement with our youth, and it all starts at home. The influences from their peers, television and the internet are very strong, so whatever values we want to instill in them, need to start at a very young age. I've raised two children (now 32 and 21), and have always said that I've taught them as best I can, and now it's up to them to take those lessons and use them how they choose. Whether it be what language they use, or how they treat others, it all starts at home, and it's a long and fervent road! I think it gets more challenging with each generation, and I don't envy my son who's now raising one of his own.
Irene Aida Garza-Ortiz July 13, 2012 at 04:37 AM
I'm going to have to say that it starts at home, even if you're Parents don't swear. It's the attitude. My Mami never swore but her Look, her attitude could send you right to ..... I myself am still learning not to even "name call" or give into a "attitude". As I am learning to excuse myself, & take a "time out" if I know that I will choose to say something or do something that I will regret! "Self-Control" can be hard but you can still choose it. As for today younger people & adults their mouth is in the toilet because their hearts are there as well. As scripture reads; " Man can tame things but never tame the tongue". And "what the heart contains, the mouth speaks". So yes all of us are included! We need to clean it up big time! And it starts with you because you can't change anyone....
Tamara Archer July 13, 2012 at 05:53 PM
You make a good point on the generational piece. Recently we've been watching movies from the 50s and 60s and there's such a stark contrast in behavior, treatment, attitudes etc. There's so much that contributes but I do think the size of our communities are so big, no longer intimate. Our casual interactions on a daily basis are with strangers and I think kids, and adults, think "I don't know them, I'm not going to see them again, what does it matter who or how I am?" But as we've seen in all the comments in this thread, it does matter because it shapes who the 'perpetrator' is and continues to send them out in the world in that negatives space. Thank you for your comment.
Tamara Archer July 13, 2012 at 05:55 PM
Yes, I'm regularly reminding our kids that it's not so much what you say and how you say it and it doesn't always mean the words out of your mouth. Body language and 'tude are definitely a part of the communication. I appreciate your comment.


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