Friday, 28 December 2012

Bad words: how do we deal with them?

The idea that our sweet, precious little angels are actually growing older and growing up is really hard to wrap our heads around. The idea that once they're school-age we no longer have control over what they do and see and hear and are exposed to every hour of every day is absolutely terrifying, particularly if you're a stay-at-home mom who has spent every moment of their lives with them.

There's so much they could potentially be exposed to out there in the world, even the very sheltered world of an elementary school in a good neighbourhood. There's teasing, bullying, bad language, kids with older siblings who'll shatter their innocent little worlds. How do we protect them when we can't be there with them every hour of the day anymore?

The first of these issues that we're having to tackle in our family is swearing - and, surprisingly, it's not something that has come up at school or from their friends; it's at home. My boys are getting old enough that the movies they're interested in are not always only cartoons. And movies that aren't cartoons sometimes have bad words.

Transformers was the first "grown-up-kids" movie that they wanted to - and were allowed to - see. The Transformers movies have some bad language. At first, I wasn't sure how to handle it - should I screen the swear words, the way I do with unedited versions of songs we hear in the car with a quick turn of the volume dial? I decided that wouldn't work. I know they really didn't notice the bad words anyway - they barely paid attention to the dialogue, but were more interested in the giant robots and the action. So I was very casual about it, and just pointed out as they came up that there were some bad words, I knew they knew that, and it was just part of the silliness of grown-up movies and I expected them not to repeat those sorts of words.

I have used bad words in front of them a couple of times over the last few years as they've grown older, when I was angry or frustrated or in a fight with one or both of them and yelling. I have never felt so guilty about anything. I spoke to them about it immediately afterward, apologized for using a bad word, and told them that sometimes grown-ups say things that they shouldn't and I still expected them not to use bad language. I still feel guilty. But you know what? Part of growing up and learning about right and wrong and how to behave is learning that people make mistakes and that it's important to admit to your mistakes and learn from them. In showing them that Mommy makes mistakes too, as much as I'd prefer them to still think of me as perfect, they start to learn that lesson.

Until now, this was their only exposure to bad words. Their friends at school don't swear. My husband and I don't use adult language in front of them. We only watch cartoons on TV. The Transformers movies were a one-off, and the perhaps two or three times I've used a word I shouldn't have in the last couple of years have been explained, apologized for, and forgotten.
National Lampoon's
Christmas Vacation

But it's the Christmas season now, and for me one of the biggest parts of the Christmas season has always been watching National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, my favourite movie of all time. I knew my boys would absolutely love that movie, and I thought they were old enough to get it - but it has a fair bit of bad language, and bad language used for humour, which I do not want to encourage. It's just the bad language, though - there's nothing else inappropriate. I struggled with the decision for a couple of weeks - were they old enough? How would I make them understand that something can be ok on TV or in the movies but not ok in real life? Should I wait a few years until they were older?

I finally decided to let them watch the movie. I would much rather they watch a movie with some bad words with me and have a conversation about it and understand my views on it than learn these words secretly from their friends at school and think of them as something to say with their friends and hide from us. This is the open, honest, sharing sort of relationship I hope to still have with them when we have to talk about drinking, smoking, drugs and sex in a few years, so why not start as I mean to go on?

I sat the boys down and told them we were going to watch Mommy's favourite Christmas movie and I thought they'd think it was really funny. I explained that the movie had some bad words in it, and as they know sometimes grown-ups use words they shouldn't but that didn't mean it was ok for them to use those words. I told them I was letting them watch a grown-up movie because I trusted them to be grown-up enough to understand that just because something is ok in a movie doesn't mean it's ok in real life. We settled in for a family movie night with our pillows and blankets all piled up in the family room and watched the movie by the light of the Christmas tree - and they absolutely loved it. They thought it was hilarious, they laughed in all the right spots, and they basically ignored the swear words as if they were not relevant to the movie itself - exactly as I would have hoped.

I'd still like to shelter my babies from everything in the world, but I'm realizing that as they grow up they need to learn how to deal with all the new and different things they will be exposed to - and I think the safest, most controlled way for them to be exposed to anything is in our own home.

You might also like...
Stuff I swore I'd never do
The myth of the stay-at-home mom
Body image: what are we teaching our kids?