Before you shout, "Cool it, Potty Mouth!" ... are you right or over-reacting?
You're with some adult friends (having dinner, watching a game, just hanging out) when someone cusses … and you realize your child is in the room. Well, crap. You don't want your child hearing language like that. What do you do?
Hopefully you can handle it with a playful comment to your friend and move on.
But what happens if the behavior continues and your friend makes a habit of sprinkling cuss words and f-bombs into conversation in front of your child? You've politely commented on it before. Did they not get the hint or do they just not care?
And what if this someone is not just a friend but perhaps a new romantic partner? How do you handle it? Is cussing in front of your kid a relationship deal breaker?
Shut Up Or Shove Off?
Before you bounce your friend out to the street for their foul mouth, first notice how they respond when you call them out for cussing. Do they get embarrassed, apologize, and try to make amends, or do they act like you are the one with the problem? And do they swear frequently or it is just an occasional slip?
If this person is not accustomed to being around children (or perhaps is freer with their language around their own kids), they may need some reminding to do things differently around your child. Acknowledge that you realize they are an adult and aren't used to watching their language, but you would appreciate them remembering to keep their commentary PG-rated around your child.
Emphasize that your focus is on looking out for your child, not criticizing them. In other words, cut them a little slack and try to work with them.
Also, be clear about what you will and will not let slide in regard to color language use. For instance, is the occasional "d*mn," "hell," or "sh*t" something you can tolerate but your deal breakers are f-bombs, gendered or racial slurs, or the like?
Know where you really feel compelled to draw the line before you ask them to change their swearing-like-a-sailor ways.
Check Yourself First
Before you ask for changes in other people's behavior, first think about why you object to children hearing some or all swear words. Knowing the value and deeper meaning you place on certain words and messages will help you decide if they are deal breakers for you and how to defend your choices to others.
If you have talked with your friend and the cussing continues, before you make demands that they change their behavior, see if there are ways you might modify the way you invite that person to interact with your family.
Control the situations in which you want to spend time with that friend. Maybe only invite that person to adults-only cocktail parties at your home but not to your children's birthday parties or other kid-centered events.
As for whether you keep this friend (or love interest) in your life at all, base that decision on whether they respect your request. If their profanity-laced comments feel intentional, you may need to send this person packing.
Remember, they don't have to agree with your decision to limit cussing in front of your child, but they do have to respect (and honor) that choice. If they don't respect you, you need to decide if that's a person you even want in your life—regardless of whether or not your children are around.
From The Mouths Of Babes
As I was conducting my exhaustive research for this article (a.k.a. Googling the topic), my 7-year old son came up behind me and started reading over my shoulder. Figuring that I could do some creative research (and possibly have a teaching moment with him), I asked for his input and his reply was suprising!
Me: "How would you feel if you heard adults we know cussing?"
Son: "I think it would make me sad … and a little scared. Yeah, sad and scared."
Me: "Why do you think that is?"
Son: "Well, I think most people use those words when they are really mad or upset—that would make me sad for them. I think I would be a little scared because if they can't control their mouths and voices, they might not be able to control other parts of their bodies."
Me: "You think they might hurt someone?"
Son: "You never know."
To adults, cussing is just colorful, expressive, even comical language. But a child perceives cuss words (even the casual or silly use of them) as a sign that something is wrong. That someone is upset or in danger. And we forget that as adults—that our experience with words is not the same as how children experience them.
It's A Big, Trashy-Mouthed World Out There
Children hear things and "understand" things in ways we don't consider. Our words have impact—often beyond what even intended—and so it is a fair request to ask friends to choose their words carefully around your kids. That said, the world exposes children to cussing from a myriad of sources that we can't control (other parents, classmates, TV, music, everyday people in their community, etc.). It's not realistic to think they will never hear things we wish they didn't.
So, the real question is: how are you helping them to process and deal with these words and messages (rather than just helping your kids avoid them)?
Find opportunities to talk with your kids about language (the meaning of words and how people use those words) and what you think is okay and not okay for them to say. For instance, you may feel that it is proper for adults to use certain "grown up words", but not kids.
Also, you might talk about how to respond when people say words you find inappropriate. Helping your children deal with difficult situations helps you both be winners.