Family

Swearing in front of the kids isn’t as bad as you think

Dropping the occasional F-bomb around the children isn't the end of the world (apparently).
Swearing in front of children isn't as bad as you think

There are times when swearing in front of kids just happens – letting rip with a full tilt expletive-laden rant isn’t recommended by any parenting manuals – but dropping the occasional swear word around your children isn’t as bad as you think, at least according to science.

Just to reiterate: heavy swearing in front of children is definitely off-limits, it’s ethically dubious and there could be risk of harm.

In an experiment with college students, researchers found language which harms the most are slurs, not actual swear words.

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This study noted how college students who were exposed to a homosexual slur sat 10 centimetres further away from someone they believed to be gay than participants who saw a neutral word.

Similarly, another experiment found university students exposed to a violent homophobic slur thought less money should be allocated for HIV activism.

While the evidence as to how swearing affects children isn’t conclusive, science suggests there’s little evidence that everyday swear words lead to more violence or dulled emotion in kids.

So, although direct harm doesn’t stem from swearing, social conventions should be considered. You don’t want your kid dropping an F-bomb in front of their teacher.

On the subject of swearing in front of kids, scientist Benjamin Bergen wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “When I happen to swear around my kid, I provide some coaching. I engage him in an honest dialogue about why some words are OK in some places, but not others.

“Even a 2-year-old can understand that the f-word can be muttered consequence-free at home but might lead to a negative reaction when screamed in the supermarket.”

Watch Woman’s Day Guest Editor Kate Hawkesby talk about the tricky topics parents are facing today.

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Swearing also comes with added bonuses: it’s a great way to bond with people, according to this study.

Also, the emotional intensity of swearing may help you to withstand pain.

In a bizarre 2011 study, two groups of participants dipped their hands into ice cold water. One group could repeat their favourite swear word while withstanding the cold, the other group could not, but the effect was greater for people who swore less in their daily lives.

Moderation, as with anything, has its benefits.

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