I grew up in a home where curse words were avoided like West Nile-laden mosquitoes. My parents took extreme and heroic measures to keep us far from these disease-carrying bloodsuckers. We were coated with every spiritual bug spray you can imagine:
- Listening to the radio was forbidden.
- Hanging out with kids who didn’t go to church was also forbidden.
- And using replacement players like darn-it, shoot, and heck were forbidden even harder.
My parents were ever vigilant, but nothing took us to DEFCON 1 like television and movies. The Roberts family stood defiantly on high alert anytime Hollywood reached into our living room. Even PG movies were edited for content.
I still have a slow-motion visual of my panicked mother sprinting for the remote control to censor that foul-mouthed Inigo Montoya. In my house The Princess Bride ended the same way every time: “I want my father back, you son of a (mute)!”
Not only were we protected from the evils of cursing, we were expected to carry on the family paranoia. Dare we stray from our verbal moral code, consequences ranged from public face slaps to copying Scripture verses about unwholesome talk. (Nothing attracts a preteen to the Bible like having to write Ephesians 4:29 one hundred times with a dull No. 2 pencil.)
So, that was my childhood.
Needless to say, Heather and I have taken a different approach with our children when it comes to swearing.
We don’t panic or shake our heads disapprovingly when a devil word is used. Instead, we pause the television or pull our kids aside and offer instruction:
- This is what that word means
- This is why people say it
- This is why others laughed (or cringed)
- This is why we don’t want you to use that word
- This is the reason why Mom and Dad don’t use that word either
In our house we believe that knowledge is powerful, grace is essential, and Jesus loves current culture. So, we simply use cursing as a teaching moment.
The result has been refreshing. My kids can tell you what most curse words mean, but they don’t use them. Since the myth has been debunked, curse words carry very little allure. Michael and Sydney know that sometimes cursing is funny, usually cursing is offensive, and almost always, cursing is done out of ignorance.
For our family it’s about following the example of Jesus. Jesus didn’t hide from the sin in his culture; quite the opposite. He recruited the rough-and-tumble, exonerated the condemned, and dined with the sinners. Instead of fleeing the darkness, Jesus took a different approach: He illuminated it.
I don’t know how our little parental experiment will fare—it’s risky, I guess. My little darlings might end up spewing curse words like Eminem before they even reach puberty. This is a real possibility.
But if we’re right, something special might happen.
We might raise children who actually believe Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world. We might raise children who see the brokenness in this world but aren’t afraid of it. And we just might raise children who know what it means to speak light into darkness.
That’s a risk we’re willing to take.