If the conversation in your house was part of a movie script, would it rate a G, PG, PG-13, or even an R?
Many parents are alarmed at their trash-talking teens, but James O'Connor, author of "Cuss Control: The Complete Book on How to Curb Your Cursing", offers hope. "Most swearing is complaining or criticizing, but when parent and teen are battling over profanity, it’s time for a new tactic," he advises. "Stop the yelling and threats and calmly explain how the language really bothers you. Encouraging them to develop a more positive attitude can not only reduce swearing, but they'll be happier too." O'Connor also encourages making deals: "Ask your teen what you do that really annoys him or her, and say you will try to change if he or she will try to change."
Here are some ideas that can encourage your teens to speak with more dignity and self-control.
1. Redefine Cool
Teens may think swearing is cool, but the truly cool are confident and articulate. Swearing reveals the opposite: insecurity and aggression. Swearing just sounds dumb, and dumb is never cool.
2. Promise to Improve Your Own Language
If you swear, you can make a powerful impact by saying, "I realize that I've set a bad example with my language and I'm working to improve it. I hope you’ll forgive me, and I'm asking you to make the same effort." Don't be dismayed by the inevitable eye-rolling. Your humility will make an impression, and it could be the first step in an important discussion about why words matter.
3. Explain the Link between Language and Moods
The hostility of foul language increases feelings of anger, which raises stress hormones and creates a vicious cycle of anger-swearing-anger. So if you want to be happier, talk cleaner.
4. Deflate the "But Everybody Does It!" Argument
The prevalence of obscene language in the media has made teen swearing an even bigger issue. Still, it’s a pretty lame argument to say that “Everybody does it," since it's no defense against indefensible behavior. In fact, O'Connor explains that the hostile and bitter tone of most swearing makes it a form of verbal violence. And what about the "freedom of speech" argument? Remind your kids that other people have rights, too, including the right not to be verbally assaulted by profanity.
5. Build Your Teen's Sense of Dignity and Belonging
Teens may also curse to get attention or to express rebellion or anger. Try to understand what's motivating your teens' need to swear, and look for ways to build their sense of self. You might suggest they actually say, “I am so angry right now because….” to help them get at the source of the problem. Teens still need heaps of reassurance and love from their parents. If your relationship with your teens is damaged or fragile, take their swearing problem as a wake-up call that they may need professional help to deal with underlying issues of anger, rebellion, or depression.