SHREYA* was beginning to bask in the pleasure of listening to her daughter recite “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and other rhymes. Her daughter, a living form of her aspirations, was picking up names and words faster than she had surmised. Shreya was taken aback when her daughter, a two-year old, uttered the “F” word and other expletives. Shreya was perplexed and distraught – the acid test of “good” parenting had arrived.
The process of filtering what children learn has been an age-long concern plaguing parents as well as educators. Child development experts unanimously agree that children absorb the behaviour and speech of others. They might be adopting the habit of using profane language from someone within the household, the neighbourhood, or the school. With unsupervised exposure to television, movies, and the Internet, the ability of children to learn unproductive language is heightened.
Children use expletives in an attempt to seek attention or to express subdued feelings of despair, fear, etc. Researchers suggest child care professionals and parents to anticipate this behaviour, which while unacceptable, is also quite normal as the children begin to be more aware of the social and psychological aspects of human interaction.
Parents are greatly responsible for filtering the speech of children. They must be aware of the gravity of the matter. Laughing off or ignoring the obscene words will only add to the problem. There is no alternative for them other than being good role-models themselves and refraining from cursing for good and not only as an act of pretense in front of children.
“A boy told me he had overheard and hence, learnt swearwords from his parents’ quarrels,” said an administrator of a renowned English-medium school.
Parents need to introduce their children to the implications of words. For younger children, swearwords can be called “bad” or “potty” words. Some parents suggest ignoring the first time a child utters foul words because it is likely that he/she will not repeat it if it achieves no reaction from those around him/her. Others find it useful to morph the “F” word into a different one and to ask, for example, “What did you say about the frog?”
Older children can be taught the meanings. Some educators, upon hearing offensive language, ask the speaker to say the meaning aloud. They find that most of the children are either not aware of the meaning or they are so embarrassed about the original meaning that they hesitate to repeat the word in a packed room. Obscene language is hurtful and disrespectful to the listeners and can lead to social or even physical retaliation against the speaker. Others may perceive the speaker as ill-educated or out of control.
Clear boundaries must be set for children. For example, say “We don’t use these words in our house. Here’s how we express that feeling.” Proactively teach children good words and better ways of expressing themselves. If older children are consistently talking in profane terms, ensure immediately that they know how upsetting it is for you. You can enforce stricter measures, such as no access to the Internet for a week. Bear in mind that the corrective measures must never cause physical harm or psychological stress to the children. One cannot establish a beautiful habit with dreadful rules.
Separate your children from disruptive playmates and house-helps. Young parents nowadays rely heavily on house-helps with even the basic of activities, such as feeding children.This trend is exceedingly detrimental to the well-being of children. If children are spending a major portion of their formative years with anyone other than the parents, it is only natural that they will imitate the behavioral traits of others. Parents will eventually lose control over the children’s upbringing. Simultaneously, reduce children’s dependency on television and the Internet. Include school teachers in your quest for providing a wholesome environment for the kids.
Lastly, it helps to know that the phase where children curse is temporary and that with proper manipulation of events, this too, like other formidable situations, will ultimately pass.
By Monica Islam
* Name has been changed to protect privacy.