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9 Ways to Discourage Your Teens from Swearing

9 Ways to Discourage Your Teens from Swearing

Practical ideas to help your teens tame the swearing habit.

by

It wasn't that long ago when swearing was saved for "special occasions,” such as accidentally hammering your finger or getting into a heated argument.

Today, with profanities shot through the media and the Internet, swearing seems almost normal, even as we bend over backwards to avoid other demeaning language, such as racial epithets. The more exposure we have to profanities, the more normal it seems and the harder it may be to stop.

Here are some ideas to help your teens tame the swearing habit.

1. Promise to improve your own language

If you swear, you can make a powerful impact by saying, "I realize that I've set a bad example with my language and I'm working to improve it. I hope you'll forgive me, and I'm asking you to make the same effort." Don't be dismayed by the inevitable eye-rolling. Your humility will have made a lasting impression, and it could be the first step in an important discussion about why words matter.

2. Redefine cool

Teens may think swearing is cool, but the truly cool are confident and in control. Swearing reveals the opposite: insecurity and aggression. Swearing is also inarticulate, and most people (even teens) link inarticulateness with being dumb -- and dumb is never cool.

3. Deflate the "But everybody does it!" argument (and others)

James O'Connor, author of "Cuss Control: The Complete Book on How to Curb Your Cursing" explains that the hostile and bitter tone of most swearing makes it a form of verbal violence. Once you deflate the "It's just words" argument, the weak "Everybody does it" argument is even easier to shoot down, since it's no defense against indefensible behavior. What about the "freedom of speech" argument? Remind your kids that other people have rights, too, including the right not to be verbally assaulted by profanity.

4. Explain the link between language and moods

The hostility of swear words itself increases feelings of anger, which raises stress hormones. Since feeling angry makes you more prone to swearing again, it's a vicious cycle. Researchers who study language have observed that often, people who don't swear have better, more optimistic dispositions. So if you want to be happier, talk cleaner.

5. Build your teen's sense of dignity and security

Teens may curse to get attention, as an expression of rebellion, because they feel defensive or just insecure. If your teen is insecure, look for ways to build her self-esteem meaningfully. Praise specific abilities, talents, behaviors, and character. Tell her sincerely that you believe she is simply too smart and too fine a person to resort to swearing. Few teens will admit how much they still need reassurance and love from their parents.

6. Set standards for your home

Even if you've let things slide till now, you can still hit the “reset” mode on the verbal atmosphere in your home. Tell your kids that your home is a "swearing-free zone" and establish consequences for violating the house rules that apply to everyone – parents included. Charging a dollar per word is something most teens will feel acutely.

Don't overreact to slip-ups, but if your teens flagrantly disregard your rules, impose a stronger consequence, such as withholding allowance or permission to use the car. Whatever consequences you choose, be firm. It's your home and you are the parent.

7. Build incentives

Use the carrot as well as the stick. Offer your teens a fun night out at a baseball game or a favorite restaurant to reward them if they go for an agreed-upon stretch of time with no (or greatly reduced) swearing. This is a win-win: You have just scheduled time with your kids that you might not otherwise have spent together. Continue to applaud their efforts, acknowledging that it is hard to break a habit.

8. Encourage better entertainment choices

This may be almost impossible for older teens because of their greater independence. Still, you aren't obligated to give your kids money to see a movie you disapprove of. For younger kids, why not call their friends’ parents to discuss what movies they are allowing them to see in their homes? Many parents have given up on even trying to monitor their kids' entertainment choices, despite the clear-cut influence of the media on our kids' language and behavior.

9. Use technology to help

Profanity is everywhere where your kids are, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and even entries in Wikipedia, which today’s kids tend to use as the go-to research tool.

Filtering technology can help. ClearPlay is a program that can filter streaming movies rented or purchased from Amazon, and sells a special Blu-ray and DVD player that filters regular movies. TVGuardian filters profanities from standard- and high-definition TVs; and NetNanny offers parents a way to filter profanities, pornography and other inappropriate material for the Internet. Check out the best options for your standards and your family.

Swearing can be a phase that teens will outgrow. For others, swearing can mask a deeper anger and insecurity that therapy may be required to fix. But for the average, normal teen who just fell into the habit because it's all around them, your efforts to help them understand how deeply words matter and what a large impact they have on how they will be perceived by others will go a long way.

August 5, 2017

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 2

(2) Anonymous, August 13, 2017 7:19 PM

swearing is surprising.

At the age of 8 my son was swearing constantly no matter what I said/explained, it was worse in public and of course people looked at me in disgust. Then one day he woke addressing me very politely, and never uttered a nasty word ever since, he is now 49, HOWEVER all of a sudden I can't stop swearing. Jonathan accepts me just the way I am.

(1) Nancy, August 6, 2017 1:15 PM

Helpful strategies for all of us

Hi Judy--
It's great to see you here again. I have not been an adolescent for awhile, but I can certainly benefit from what you have outlined above. Sadly, I am not what one would call a patient person and my impatience shows up via a 4 letter word. :-( People have told me that I have a strong vocabulary. It's high time I started using BETTER words to express frustration. Thanks for this blog. Also, I am looking forward to purchasing your new book!!

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