I'm A Liberal Parent — But Even I Don't Let My Kids Say These Words

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Young female cover her mouth

I keep hearing about parents who let their kids swear, and I'm a little perplexed by it.

The moms I know who allow their kids to swear tend to also be the ones most like me: Liberal, feminist, opinionated, and well-educated.

The kids I know who aren't allowed to swear are usually from religious or very conservative families. 

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This is confusing to me.

But apparently, I perplex people, too.

I've been approached by other parents probably ten times about how polite my sons are. As if they're shocked!

I finally got up the nerve to ask one of these moms why.

"Well," she said, "You are just so outspoken! And you're all about feminism and politics."

At the women's march with a friend, photo courtesy of author

And that makes me wonder ...

... how did feminism and strong women become tied to being rude and disrespectful?

And when did religious folks and conservatives become the only ones associated with showing respect?

Here are the five main reasons my kids aren't allowed to swear, and why these rules make sense within a liberal, feminist ideology.

Here are 5 reasons why even liberal parents should never let their kids swear:

1. Swearing gets kids in trouble in school, sports, and other clubs/groups

Most kids are not mature enough to know when they should swear and when they shouldn't. This is especially true with little kids, whose ability to think their actions through ahead of time is naturally limited.

On top of that, our kids naturally mimic their family's speech patterns and word choices.

So why would I set my kid up for a visit to the principal's office or a mark on "the naughty board" by normalizing swear words?

We should build up our kids' self-esteem, not set them up to be pegged as "the naughty kid".

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2. Swearing limits your kids' social circle

I want my kids to be able to be friends with any kid they think is nice and fun, and who treats other people well.

If my son is in the habit of swearing, there are going to be a lot of parents who won't want to have him over to play, or who may even advise their own child not to hang out with him.

As a result of my strictness, my kids have friends from a variety of religious backgrounds and faiths.

I want my sons to be able to hang out with anyone they'd like to, and not have their choices limited to other families who allow swearing in their house.

No parent ever said their child couldn't hang out with someone because they don't swear enough. But we all know that the reverse happens all the time.

3. Swearing and saying things like "Jesus Christ" or "Oh my God" can be offensive to other people

This is where I get super confused by progressive families who let their kids curse.

Are they not worried about their child being offensive toward someone else's religion?

Sure, Christians aren't exactly a persecuted class here in the United States, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't respect their religious choices.

I don't believe that any religion should dictate the direction of our laws or public schools, but I still think we can respect the sanctity of someone else's god.

4. Swearing can be seen as intrusive and sometimes even threatening

I'm raising boys.

Do you know which population most acts like they own all the physical space and emotional energy when they're out in public?


I've been teaching my boys their entire lives to respect the space around them and not intrude upon other people's space or comfort.

We have a code word, "Up and around", which means "look up, look around you, and observe the people and energy nearby."

I don't know how my opinion on swearing would vary if I were raising anyone other than the kids I have right now, but as of now, I want my kids to see that swearing in public often makes other people uncomfortable, and can even make them feel unsafe.

Especially when they get bigger and older.

They are not, by virtue of their gender, entitled to make people uncomfortable.

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5. It can be hard for kids to sort "good" swear words from "bad" swear words

In our house, there are some "bad words" that we never, ever use. When these words come up in music or in movies, we talk about why they were used (sometimes appropriate in context, sometimes not) and what words we can use instead.

But letting your kid say some "bad" words and not others might just be too complex at young ages.

My kids saw how confusing these rules can be when a kid in my older son's middle school referred to their math teacher in a bad way in front of his mom.

His mom was shocked at his language, and the boy replied with, "You don't care if I swear, as long as I'm not in school!"

So why was this mom shocked when her son used a sexist swear word?

He had no concept of the impact of his word choices, beyond trying not to get in trouble.

To be clear, I don't crack down too hard on my kids' language if something slips. One of my kids yelled,  in a joking way last weekend while watching football.

I just reminded him gently that he's not allowed to say swear words.

I even have a friend who lets her kids swear, in a very clever way. Here are her rules:

They may say ONE swear word a day, and it can only be in their own house or car. The swear word may not be used against any other person, and may not be a slur.

I think that's pretty clever. It teaches self-control!

She's also teaching them to think about their word choices, context, and if what they say hurts someone else.

Her kids basically never swear anymore. Her son said it's because he's always "saving up" his swear word in case something really bad happens.

I'm not certain my kids will always be polite. They are good boys, but far from perfect.

And there are times I don't want them to be polite, especially as they get older.

Like if they're standing up for someone else, like the grown-ups holding signs around them at the Women's March with words they're not allowed to say.

We talked about how context mattered there, and why it was okay for those women to reclaim some words.

The kids marching alongside us, photo courtesy of author

I want them to understand that sometimes we raise our voices and are not "nice" when important things are on the line.

But there is a time and a place.

Right now they have limits and an expectation to speak respectfully.

And I think it's high time other parents get on board.

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Joanna Schroeder is a parenting writer and media critic whose writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and more. She is co-author of the upcoming book Talk To Your Boys from Workman Publishing.