My son came home from school with a new swear word the other day. While we were eating dinner, he let us know that a friend wrote a swear word on a piece of paper and showed it to him. My wife asked him what the word was, and he was very hesitant to share…. But after a little prodding, he confided that that his friend had written “The F-Word” (Yikes, right? The BIG one!). To which our oldest daughter responded, “Oh, I know what it is…. Does it end with a T?” Leading me to immediately assume she was talking about the word “FART,” which would be so much better than the F-Word with which I am familiar (Some might say I’m a little TOO familiar with it). When she hinted that there was an A in the middle, I was still thinking “FART,” but then finally she whispered, “You know…. FAT.”
I was so enamored by her innocence–That our sweet little public school kid would be so careful with her words to think that she had to whisper the word “fat” to us. I think that the level of the stuff we are exposed to depends more on the other kids in your class than it does on your school. A good friend with a kid in Christian school told me a story about his child telling of a “naughty” classmate who said “The S-Word.” When asked to be a little more specific, the child said, “You know…. S-H…?” Turns out the word was “Shut up.” I, on the other hand, spent my whole life going to a Christian school, but I’m pretty sure by fourth grade we were very familiar with words that would have made George Carlin blush. And there were probably quite a few different F-Words on that list, but “FAT” was not one of them.
Anyway, the “F-word” that was written on a note to my son was the word “FLUCKING.” Which as far as swear words are concerned, the more I think about it, is pretty flucking awesome.
We can’t protect our kids from all the naughty kids and all the swear words in the world. I remember when my boy was old enough to read but still needed some help in the bathroom, and we went into a public restroom with some colorful language written on the walls, but no matter where I positioned myself, I couldn’t stand between him and all those F-Words…. At least not without covering his eyes completely. And it wasn’t that long ago, after his little sister kicked him between the legs and I asked him what happened, that he first declared, “She kicked me in the NUTS!” Up until that day, any talk of that area of his body was only referred to as “my privates.” But when your little sister kicks you between the legs, “She kicked me in the privates!” does not get the point across nearly as well as “She kicked me in the NUTS!” Anyone who has ever gotten kicked in the nuts knows that….
After the flucking disclosure, I got serious with the kids for a little bit. And I talked to them about words. It was one of those rare times where I felt like I said something that made sense to them. So I decided to share it with you, just in case you’d like to use it yourself (I should mention that I am a little less proud of myself than I was a minute ago, because I just Googled “Words are like a hammer,” and there are 49,500 results. And there I was, thinking that I came up with something new…. Oh well). Here is the gist of what I said:
Words are neither good nor bad…. Words are tools. Words are like a hammer. You can use a hammer to build something up or tear something down, but how it is used depends of the person swinging the hammer. We are the ones who are in control of the tools–Not the other way around. When we decide that there are some words we can’t say, we give those words the power to control us…. But we are not controlled by words–We are the ones who are in control. When we are at our best, we are using our words to build a person up, and when we are at our worst, we are using our words to tear a person down. Words are very powerful, but it is the heart behind the words that determines how that power is used. Very early on, we learn the word “Pig,” but that word–that tool–used by someone with the wrong heart can take that little three-letter word and hurt someone way deeper than with any word we think is so “naughty” that we feel the need to whisper it or only refer to it by its first letter.
Anyway, I think that is a good way to explain swearing to kids. I talked to them about how there are times where some words are less appropriate than others, but no matter the situation, WE are always the ones in control of the words. We give them power, and we can take that power away too. There are some words that have become so painful to certain groups that even an attempt to wield them with good intentions can still cause unneeded pain, and it’s okay to LET THOSE WORDS GO… Words like faggot and nigger and retard–Cruel and painful words that have evolved into a tool that only seems to have one purpose. But even those words mustn’t have power over us. They are like guns: We pick them up to put them away…. hopefully for good.
So, last week a very good friend turned 40. At his birthday party, many of us stood and made toasts. We stood with drinks in our hands (alcohol is another tool we have been given–and just like any other tool, it can be rightly used or it can be misused), and we shared our words and raised our glasses. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I do remember finishing by looking at my friend and saying, “You are fucking fantastic.” And you know what? It was a holy time. I chose my words carefully, and I meant it. If Jesus himself was standing in that room with me in the flesh, I wouldn’t have said it any differently (The only difference would have been that maybe the wine would have probably been a little better). Still, this doesn’t mean that I’m going to start dropping the F-Bomb in front of my kids–Not even “Flucking.” There is a time and a place for words like that…. And that time and place is called High School.