Periodically I have to remind the children why they can't freely say non-swears such as stupid, dumb, hate, sucks, and crap---especially since I say all those words. There are a lot of ways to explain it; the explanation I use is that they first have to fully know what the words mean and fully understand the impact of using each word, so that they're able to judge the appropriateness of use and then accept the consequences of use.
It's not that the words are intrinsically bad/unusable, but rather that they're more complicated than regular words; context/audience/frequency is significantly more important. I know the difference between (1) saying privately/lightly to a friend that I think a certain school/work rule is stupid and (2) saying publicly in a meeting that I think someone's idea is stupid and (3) calling a clerk stupid. I know the difference between (1) "Oh, man, I'm sorry, I hate that you have to go through this!" and (2) "I hate this new parking lot!" and (3) "I hate you!" The kids don't really get all the nuances of those yet---but as they start to pick up the nuances, they get more freedom of usage.
One thing the kids have found appealing about this explanation is that it includes the idea that soon they WILL be able to use the words---and also that the timing is not arbitrary but based on their own judgment/maturity levels. That's what I find appealing, too: I don't have to sit around debating intrinsic word value or whether they MEANT the word that way: if they act like they don't understand what the problem is, they're not ready to use that word yet.
So they're allowed to try a word out now and then, and if it's outside of acceptable limits (calling a sibling stupid, for example), I'll remind them not to use that word. If they've used it within acceptable limits (saying that they think piece of homework or a rule at school or the way something works is stupid---bonus points if it actually is kind of stupid) I'll give them a little squinty, small-closed-mouth-smile look that means "I'm allowing you to use the word this time and in this setting, but I'm paying attention to how you're using it." It's a look that acknowledges/rewards correct usage, while reminding them that they're still in the probation period.
(Darned if I can find it, but Indigo Girl posted awhile back about one of her kids using a mild bad word, but using it correctly and, when glanced at squintily, following it with something like "I know, not in front of the grandparents." Yeah baby. That's the goal.) [Here's the post---thanks, I.G.!]
I've been allowing 7th-grade Rob more word-use freedom recently, as long as he uses the words correctly and not in certain company (school, for example, if adults are around), and as long as he doesn't use them too FREQUENTLY. That last one is big for me: if he occasionally says something "sucks," I'm fine with that; if he's saying "sucks" a dozen times a day and "crap" another dozen times a day, I'm not fine with that. Good-naturedness is also important: yelling "That's CRAP!" would be totally different than smilingly saying "...Crap!" when I notice/mention it's past his bedtime.
But several times recently his siblings have reported that he's been swearing repeatedly under his breath (but loud enough for them to hear). One incident was when he was trying to get his MP3 player to work. Another was when he was trying to find something he'd lost. Not iffy words but Big Swears---and not lightheartedly.
I THINK my goal is only to correct the "audience" and "overuse" aspects of this, not to correct the actual words themselves. Seventh grade is too young for him to use Big Swears in front of me (or in front of younger children), but may be acceptable for when he's alone or with peers (and there is also the issue of whether I could stop him in either of those latter two situations). As someone who by nature is STILL disinclined to use "the s-word," it's hard for me to know what's normal.
Do you remember what the rules were in your household growing up? Do you remember when you and/or your peers started swearing? When I was in 7th grade, I was still at a private school where you could get a stern lecture for using the word "weird." (It connects to WITCHCRAFT.)
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