If you're anything like me, you've felt the panic of accidentally cursing in front of a child or even a group of young children, and then immediately berated yourself for not having the presence of mind to stop the swear from slipping out.
It could simply be that you're a potty mouth, or perhaps something happened that required something a little more effectual than "Oh gosh darn!" but either way, you've f*cking done it. You can watch their eyes grow wide and their mouth curl into a surprised "Ooh!" as they remind you that you've just said a bad word.
Like I didn't know, kid. Damn. I'm the one who said it!
For me, it would occasionally happen when I was nannying, but I was pretty used to censoring myself at work. It was the extreme moments that I found myself slipping, like that time a kid rolled over my foot with his bicycle, and some other times when I was injured in the line of duty, or even in a blind panic when a kid did something so incredibly stupid and life-threatening that I literally couldn't wrap my head around it.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who has had to save a kid from dangling over the tiled entryway of a second-floor balcony.
Chances are good that whether you curse all the time or just when things really warrant it, you've accidentally said something "inappropriate" in front of a kid. You probably didn't mean to let loose some sailor talk to be absorbed by their sponge-like ears, but once it's there, you're hit with the overwhelming guilt that you've just soiled some innocent's brain with your filth. Sh*t, man.
But take a moment and step back from your fatalistic edge, friend, because according to Benjamin Bergen, a linguist and professor of cognitive science at UC Davis, you can cuss around your kid as much as you like, because it literally doesn't do anything to them.
Now, we're not talking cussing at your kid — because that sh*t is abusive — but saying swear words around them? Go right ahead and paint your word in colorful expletives.
Like many people, Bergen's a parent, and he also found himself putting the proverbial tape over his mouth when his kids were around. However, Bergen is also a scientist, and he had to stop and think, "Does censoring myself really matter in the long run?"
Most parents argue that they don't want to curse around their kids because they don't want a call from the school that little Timmy replied "Eff that!" to his teacher's announcement of a pop quiz, but kids are pretty much going to parrot what they hear, regardless of where they hear it, and Bergen says that "ordinary profanity" ultimately has no direct harm on a child's development.
In his new book, What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves, he talks about his findings in the true effect of profanity on a child. Bergen determined that children really have no negative experience in hearing their parents, or any other adults, use swear words. The words that really had a negative impact? Slurs.
Insults or mean-spirited remarks about people are actually harmful to a child's development — like firing off every verbal rocket you have at someone who cuts you off in traffic — because these are behaviors they will learn to associate in their own actions in the future, and deem them as acceptable.
You're not going to be able to keep your children from hearing profanity their entire life, but you can explain to them that they shouldn't use those words themselves. So if you're a potty mouth and you've said the occasional curse word in front of your kid, then chill. It just f*cking happens sometimes, OK?