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Discipline for Vulgar Language in Teenagers

“My main problem is my son’s vulgar language. He is constantly using foul language on a daily basis usually with no rhyme or reason. He just yells out a long string of bad language for no reason. He is also very open about sex. He talks about it a lot and constantly makes ‘sexual noises’.”

Adolescents equate swearing to a rite of passage. As moms and dads, we can help them learn healthier ways of expressing and developing maturity. The first step to cleaning up adolescent talk is listening to your adolescent. When you ascertain in what scenarios and environments he typically swears, you can help him find alternatives to express himself.

Does your son try to project confidence or superiority when he swears? Does he demonstrate anguish, disgust or disdain in himself or peers with cursing? Do you hear your son causally and subconsciously dropping profanities intermittently throughout casual conversations? Knowing the prime times your son swears will help you choose a course of action to clean up the cursing.

Adolescents frequently opt for strong language as the result of peer pressure. When one mother asked her 16-year-old son, James, why he selects such strong language to convey his point of view, she was astonished by his straightforward answer: “I talk just like all my friends. We don’t mean anything and it’s not like adults don’t say those things” was James' enlightening response. Although it may appear cavalier, James' explanation is familiarly synonymous with the beliefs of his peers. Realizing that her son and his friends were trying to out-do each other in a ritual game of whose language packs the most shock value, this mother decided she wanted to break her son’s habit of vulgarity. She stated, “We talked about better ways he could grab his friend’s and acquaintance’s attention. I tried to impress that acting older didn’t automatically mean someone would believe he’s mature.”

Many parents, like the mother described above, find explaining that swearing is not an impressive trait or something that is respected and admired provides clarity. When adolescents realize that vulgarity or excessive slang has an affect that is ironically opposite than their desired perception of maturity, they are less inclined to taint their vocabulary with swearing. Helping your adolescent find an intelligent means to express himself, and thus demonstrate true maturity, will both curb swearing and help him achieve his desired goal.

Also, moms and dads need to model the language they expect their adolescents to use. Reinforcing positive expressions of various emotions lets adolescents know there’s another way to get the same thing. Of course, we’re all human and can possibly accidentally or occasionally let a slang word slip. The frustration of stalled traffic or of dropping a heavy can on top of your foot can cause the most restrained person to use an inappropriate word. Acknowledging that you’re aware you made a regrettable word choice helps your adolescent respect the lessons you’re aiming to instill. Demonstrating your remorse for using a curse word offers your adolescent a glimpse into your humanistic persona.

Additionally, helping your adolescent realize there are consequences to all of his actions – including swearing – provides another deterrent. If your adolescent has to pay a predetermined ‘fee’ or ‘toll’ for every profanity used, he may think twice about spending his hard earned allowance on curse words. A curse word cookie jar worked miraculously for one mother’s son: “After a few weeks of paying for his language, he decided to give up swearing. It was just too expensive,” the mother happily proclaimed.

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