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Worldwide Ace » The F#@! You Say

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The F#@! You Say

22 December, 2010 (11:00) | Growing Up, Social Commentary

Little kids often don’t know what they’re saying, but twleve-year-olds do.

“That’s fucked up,” he said.

“Watch your mouth!” his mother chided. I sat in the passenger seat, giggling softly to myself.

“You know he’s right, though,” I chimed in. “It is pretty messed up that something like that would happen.”

“Maybe, but it doesn’t excuse his language,” she replied.

“What’s the problem? It’s just another word.”

“You know better than that.”

A few years earlier and younger,  and she would’ve sat there laughing, encouraging her son to spit out profanities he couldn’t even understand. Now, however, he was twelve.

“Do you notice that little one in the front of your age? It means you’re older, but not too old. You’re in that strange range in which little kids look up to you as someone who’s close enough in age to not bullshit them like adults do, but old enough to know a shitload more than them.”

“How come you get to say ‘bullshit’ and ‘shitload’ but I can’t?”

“Because I’m the adult here.”

According to a story in the Montreal Gazette, children are swearing earlier and more often than ever before. To many, this probably seems appalling evidence of the decline of the morality of our society. To me, however, it’s indicative of two things:

  • Parents aren’t parenting as much as they used to, or at least not in the same ways.
  • People are finally breaking away from our puritanical roots and deciding what’s really important in the world.

For the last thirty plus years, outraged parents have been blaming the media for their kids actions. Columbine? Video games. James Dallas Egbert III? Dungeons & Dragons. 9/11? Microsoft Flight Simulator.

To combat this, rather than spending more time parenting, society has largely turned to ratings boards like the MPAA and the ESRB. But ratings can only do so much. For every rating created and instituted, the internet has made it 20 times easier for kids to get their hands on the suspect items.

I remember my mom making a big deal that I shouldn’t see the film She-Devil with Rosanne Barr and Meryl Streep. It was rated PG-13 and was released shortly before Christmas when I was nine. Though I asked a couple times, my mom wouldn’t let me see the movie. Eventually, it released to video and faded into obscurity. When I was 11, I found it playing one weekend afternoon on cable. My mom caught me watching it on USA, turned it off, chewed me out, and sent me scurrying to my room. I was annoyed, but also a little guilty; it was, after all, a forbidden fruit. A few years later, my mom watched She-Devil.

“You know, it really wasn’t that bad a movie,” she admitted. “I mean, it was a bad movie, but I don’t know why I thought it would be so bad for you. I would have sworn it was rated R.”

“Nope. It’s only PG-13,” I said with pride. I felt vindicated. I later watched the movie and it really was a bad movie, but there was no real content that made it a film to hide from your children.

The other side to this story relates to the R-rated Bram Stoker’s Dracula. My parents, knowing I wanted to see it and knowing I was still only 11 when it released fall of 1992, made a pact with me: read the book and we’ll go to the movie with you. I, in turn, burned through the book in a week and was in the theaters enjoying a very racy and adult adaptation that, while excellent, couldn’t live up to the power of the book.

For me, however, this was the start to a love affair with books and film adaptations, something my parents proudly cultivated. And in our post-viewing discussion, we dwelled not on the nudity nor violence, but on the ways in which the book was superior and the details lost.

In an age where ratings make it easy for a parent to say “yes, that’s ok for my kid,” and “no way should they consume that,” society has worked hard to make parenting simpler. The biggest side effect of these ratings is that parents don’t watch, read, or play the media their kids do as often as they should or they need to in order to make informed decisions. That little PG rating is not a catch-all perfect little seal of approval; it’s a warning label. Parents should see these ratings, do research and consume the same media their children will. Without their supervision, they’re just shirking their duties and turning them over to a governing board already harpooned with criticism by the documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated.

“Now that’s bullshit.” He folded his arms, scowled and feigned a melodramtic huff from the back seat.

“Yes,” said his mom, “but it’s my bullshit and you don’t have to like it.”

“When I have kids, I’m totally letting them swear.”

“If I hear you swearing around any kids, you’ll be lucky if you live long enough to have ones of your own,” she said with a laugh.

Working with little ones has given me excellent Kid-Dar. My language naturally fades to ambiguous and silly epithets that innocuously echo by children.

But not every term I choose to use is agreeable to parents.

My mother and I used to argue about “damn,” and I was completely oblivious to why. As an athiest and a Jew, hell and damnation are silly ideas that hold no merit. My mother, who grew up protestant, however, understood better how people could view them.

It’s hard to tailor your words to what an audience wants without empathetically understanding their worldview.

When I worked at a pet store, an orthodox Jewish girl worked with me and got angry when I said the textbook name of God. In the hebrew, it’s spelled “Yaweh,” but read as “adonai,” which translates as “lord.” For me, the textbook name was clinical, and her objection was that any use of God’s name without reverence was a use in vain.

In some ways, it’s difficult to find these sorts of objections out without tripping over your words and causing conflict initially. Many social situations leave me speachless–which I know is hard to believe–as I feel out the boundaries before attempting to cross them. Regardless, finding the lingual norms required is an important part of making people comfortable.

“I’m not going to swear in front of little kids,” he replied defiantly.

“What about kids your own age? What about adults you don’t know? What about Ben here?”

“I know Ben.”

“Are you sure?” I asked playfully.

“Yes.” His mother snickered, enjoying the entire exchange.

“I know you won’t swear around little kids, but you need to get better at watching your mouth in general,” she said after a beat.

“I know,” he whined.

“And if you don’t, I’ll kick your ass!”

“Language, mom!”