Rated R For Language


I've been thinking a lot about what is and is not "appropriate" for kids to say lately. Some rules are steadfast in many families: The MPAA ratings (G, PG, PG-13, R) are taken seriously, movies and television are screened by parents before the kids see it, YouTube has parental controls, and music is listened to in case it has questionable lyrics. In other families, the rules are more lax: emphasis is placed more on conversations about what is appropriate or not, and kids have more freedom of what to watch and listen to, knowing their parents will talk to them about inappropriate content. Still other families let the kids watch and listen to anything and everything (within reason!) with the confidence that children will be inquisitive and will come to the parents with questions regarding inappropriate language.

But the thing that I've been thinking about is the word "inappropriate." It's a word that means different things to different people, and what is inappropriate to some is no big deal to others. Growing up, there were a few four letter words flown around my house, and I distinctly recall a day in 3rd grade where I got a stern talking to for informing a bully classmate "I don't give a damn what you think" in the middle of social studies. Oops. But my parents didn't wash my mouth out with soap, nor did they tell me that I could freely use language like that in school. They told me that some words are for adults, and some for kids, and if I felt the need to tell that boy that I didn't give a damn what he thought, then for the love of god, say it at home and not in class. Context was important, and the idea of time and place for language was also carefully spelled out at home. It gave me an appreciation for the language, even the bad words, and frankly it made me feel special, being able to say "damn" at home. It made me feel like a grown-up, with responsibilities regarding what I said and where I said it. The fact that I understood that words have power was a thrill to learn, and I took that responsibility seriously.


That being said, there are still words that my mother will not tolerate me saying, and I'm almost 40 years old. Lines to not cross do exist between parent and child, despite them being different in every family.

So what to do when kids start parroting language that would make a sailor blush? Of course there is no steadfast answer to that, it depends on your family, and your rules. But no matter what your hard and fast rules are about this subject, context continues to be everything. When a kid not only knows something is inappropriate, but understands why, lessons are so much easier to learn. Of course, not every situation needs to be a learning tool, and "Because I said so, that's why" certainly has its place. After all, you are the parent, not a linguist in a classroom on "Why We Don't Say "I Don't Give A Damn" In 3rd Grade Social Studies." But not selling kids short in understanding why some things are for adults and some for kids can be a great teaching tool, especially if you're like me and have said "Oh sh---oops" in front of kidlets more times than I care to admit. Of course, every time this happens, without fail, the child will say with a withering look, "that's inappropriate." Duly noted, kiddo.


Kids are curious. Always have been and always will be. And deeming some language "inappropriate" doesn't need to have a period at the end of the sentence. Just as long as it doesn't happen in front of your whole grammar school class or your granny, cause that never ends well. Don't uh, ask me why I know.