It’s a parent’s responsibility to teach kids right from wrong. Of course, that includes informing them about the evils of using foul language and what “foul language” entails. Children are told that “Hell” and “damn” are only to be used in religious contexts to illustrate the anger of a chosen deity, while uttering the likes of “ass” and “bitch” would garner an instant soap-to-the-mouth experience. But sometimes, parents lie to their children! They lie to them about foul language!
Growing up in the 1990’s, many students were taught that the likes of “butt”, “zit”, “sex”, “foxy”, “swear”, “fart”, etc. were all bad words. Hearing someone utter one of these words caused the entire classroom to gasp in horror like someone had just dropped the f-bomb. If a cartoon character said any of these terms, a sense of adrenaline began rushing through you, as you quickly looked around the room to make sure your mother had not heard the utterance, lest she turn off your television for “watching filth”.
These teachings were to the extent that one time my kindergarten teacher used the phrase “No ifs, ands, or buts”, and several members of my class became upset at this tragic homonym mix-up. A little boy tried arguing with her about it, and when she said, “I said ‘buts’ not ‘butts’!” he argued that now she had said it multiple times and he would be telling his mother. One little girl actually cried that her teacher could be such a bad person.
All over the word “butt”.
Similar events occurred in third grade, when one little girl decided to read the opening flap of her textbook–the part that lists the author information, copyright, and publisher–saw the word “sex” (referencing not discriminating based on sex) in the disclaimer, and was instantly upset that her arithmetic book had a bad word in it. Did she know what “sex” meant, whether in regards to biology or to intimate acts? Not in the slightest. She had just been taught that “sex was bad!” That same little girl, months later, accidentally said to her friends “I promise! I swear!” and instantly looked horrified and began praying to God, as she had been told never to swear.
She grew up and became a nun. Not even kidding.
Two decades later–I know, right?!–, many of these “nineties’ kids” are wondering why our parents lied to us. Why did they tell us that these were bad words, when by the fifth grade everyone know what the real bad words were. As my generation begins to have children of our own, many of us are reluctant to pass along these symbolic mistruths to them. We would rather teach them not to say what really constitutes as foul language, rather than nit-picking over other words that are completely fine to say in a PG-rated movie. At the same time, we don’t want our children to be known as “those foul-mouthed kids” for nonchalantly saying “My big sister has a bit zit” on the school bus one morning.
Does anyone even continue this trend, or is this just a baby-boomer faux-pas?
“We still teach the preschoolers in the school I work at that those words are ‘bad’,” admits Jillian Meinze of Louisville, Kentucky. “My reasoning behind it is that when they learn those words and what they mean, they think its funny. So they repeat it and make it into things inappropriate. For example: a little boy the other day was running around my classroom singing, ‘Booty butts, booty butts’ and slapping his butt as he did so.”
“Kids are always going to do and say inappropriate things,” counters Linda White, also of Louisville, Kentucky. “It’s part of being a kid. Take away their ability to be silly and say ‘fart’ at random times, and they’re going to find something else to take its place. That’s no reason to unfairly impact their vocabulary.”
It’s the debate between pee and urine all over again.
But is it fair to eliminate certain connotations from our children’s minds just to “protect them” or to save our own faces? What happens when they grow up and realize that those words really aren’t bad words after all? What will they think about the other values we have taught them? Won’t they question those, too?
This is one of those tricky issues that has no concrete answer. No one likes being told how to parent their children, but odd parenting styles can negatively impact a child later on in life.
Weigh in below. Should we eschew telling our children that “butt” and “zit” are bad words?