Young children and profanity

I was in a Whole Foods today and feeling very misanthropic; while the second condition is often a direct consequence in the first, this was different because I was craving the outbreak of a global thermonuclear war even before wandering into this madhouse of weird-looking fuckers jaggedly pushing carts of grossly overpriced produce and such around and jabbering on cell phones. I was spewing some kind of dour account of this or that deficiency in myself and others and seeding my lament with profanity when I noticed a sleeping baby being trundled by a foot or two away. I curbed my monologue until the infant and its oblivious mom were out of range and then started in again.

This made me wonder (not for the first time, as I have a couple of young nephews): What age can a human being attain before it’s unofficially no longer appropriate to swear around him or her with impunity?

Of course, this assumes two things: that there is in fact an age range from 0 to X at which hearing curses isn’t going to have a lasting neuropsychological effect, and that there are defensible reasons to avoid swearing around little kids in the first place. Most people I know would probably accept both. So on the surface this is a legitimate question. While I wouldn’t feel as if delivering a loud George Carlin monologue within inches of a sleeping six-month-old’s face was a constructive use of my time, I wouldn’t feel guilty about exposing it to F-bombs. On the other hand, I’m always careful to avoid this around hominids who are old enough to, well, seem to focus on what I’m saying, leaving aside the sobering and telling reality that some people never exhibit this behavior.

Hell, I’ll go with two years on the nose.

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  1. #1 by Andrew A. on November 7, 2010 - 10:52 pm

    Like with nudity, it seems like profanity damages adults (particularly those who procreate) far more than it does kids. Perhaps it is akin to handguns, a certain level of maturity is needed to ensure proper use.

  2. #2 by threlkeld on November 10, 2010 - 8:54 am

    I think children should be exposed to profanity as early as possible. One must learn how to swear properly, or you end up looking like a clueless dork. Even if you do swear, everything comes out sounding like Julie Andrews yelling, “Oh! Fiddlesticks!”

    My niece and nephew (18 and 14, respectively), children to two expertly sweating parents, are not foulmouthed in general conversation. But when the time is right for cussing like a sailor, they are both total pros.

  3. #3 by threlkeld on November 10, 2010 - 8:55 am

    sweating = swearing

  4. #4 by Warren on November 12, 2010 - 4:04 pm

    There is a world of difference between random cathartic profanity (muthafuggin sumbitch jivehonkyass fuggin shddy day) versus the genuine use of profanity as an expressive form.

    I wouldn’t want my child exposed, regularly, to someone who used poor grammar, because that is not an acceptable form of communication in a literate, ostensibly functional society. Similarly, I would not want my child to have the impression that “fuck” is a verb, an adverb, an adjective, a modifier, a conjunction, and a proper noun, all rolled into one convenient package.

    However, when you reference someone like George Carlin, it’s worth pointing out that his routines had a deliberate purpose for being profane – his entire professional schtick was all about being as subversive as possible. Profanity is one way to accomplish this goal, as is humor.

    For the question: It’s inappropriate to use profanity in the presence of children when their parents object to it. If a parent isn’t around, I’d keep off of it from the age of two or three up until about ten or so. (The profanity, I mean. It’s also a good idea to keep off of the child, of course.)

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