Talking to Kids About the F-bomb

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I didn’t plan to talk to Nick about the F-word.  Like most adventures in parenting, it just sort of happened.

I know what you’re thinking.  No, I didn’t “slip” at a weak moment.  (I reserve such moments for the office, remember?)

Here’s how it happened.

Nick is an avid reader and more mature than most 5th graders.  Ideally, we read books like The Hunger Games and The Lord of the Rings together.  But I had some hestitation about The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  (He asked me to read it in 4th grade, and I told him to wait a year. )

A year passes more quickly these days than I’d like.  Doesn’t it?  I still had hesitation when he asked again.

“I’m still not sure about Tom Sawyer, Nick.  Some of the dialect concerns me.”

“What could be so bad about it?  It’s a classic.  Besides, you TOLD ME I could read it in 5th grade.”

“Ok, here’s the deal.  There’s a word in Tom Sawyer that I hate. I never want you to use this word as long as you live!  DO YOU HEAR ME!”

“Mom, I don’t even know what word you’re talking about.”

At this point in the conversation, I should have seized the opportunity and had a thoughtful discussion about racism and the culture of the Old South.  I should have explained to him that he first needs to understand the context of Tom Sawyer before he reads the dialect.  But I didn’t.

Instead, I blurted out the first thing that came to my mind.

“I’m talking about the N-word, Nick.   Frankly, I would rather you drop the F-bomb than use the N-word!”

That got his attention.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I don’t think it’s cute or funny when kids drop the F-bomb.  I realize it’s the latest source of entertainment thanks to Modern Family, but I don’t find it the least bit amusing.  What I was trying to do (albeit not very eloquently) was explain to Nick that the worst language comes out of the dark places of our hearts.

Nick and I discussed the N-word briefly.   But (thankfully) it’s just not part of his world.   He was more eager to discuss the F-bomb.

He didn’t realize that I knew that he knew the F-word.  He went on to explain that he thinks it’s the worst word in the English language — people say it just because they don’t have anything else to say.  We talked about the kids in school that say it.  We talked about the fact that his sisters don’t know what the F-word is (and we’d like to keep it that way!).  And Nick promised me he would never be a potty mouth.

I tried to reassure him that no one is perfect.  “Nick, sometimes in your life, you are going to say the wrong thing.  Sometimes, Mom even says a bad word every now and then.”

“Mom, don’t tell me that!  I don’t want to hear that about you!”

I started to tell him about the time I got caught skinny dipping at church camp, but I stopped short and decided to save it for high school.

Instead, we read Jesus’ advice for a potty mouth.

But the words you speak come from the heart–that’s what defiles you.  For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander.  Matt 15-18-19.  (NLT)

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Have you talked to your preteen kids about the F-bomb (or the N-word)?   It’s not exactly dinner table conversation, but sometimes we need to seize the moment!

I'm an author who writes about the working mom's struggle to live out an authentic Christian faith in a complex and fast-paced world. I live in constant need of grace, caffeine, and technology -- usually in that order.
  • Anonymous

    So much to think about after reading this. I won’t even ask about the skinny dipping incident. ;)

    We had a jarring thing happen in the neighborhood recently that involved children. The F-bomb kept coming to mind when I thought about the offending party and even though I was right to be angry by such events, this puts a whole different spin on it. I don’t want my righteous anger to go down an ugly path.

    Thanks for the thoughts.

  • Julie Jarnagin

    I’m still in the potty-training stage of life – so this just makes me panic a little. I’m not ready to think about having those conversations with my baby. I’ve already told my husband he’s in charge of the birds and the bees talk when our son hits that age.

    • http://www.susandimickele.com Susan DiMickele

      The bird and the bees is a post in the works!

  • http://twitter.com/RachelleGardner Rachelle Gardner

    My 14-year-old philosopher likes to get into discussions about WHY some words are “good” and some words are “bad.” She points out that it’s just a bunch of letters rearranged in a different way – what’s the big deal? She wants to know WHO decided some words were good and some were bad, and why we have to go along with them. She uses whatever words she wants, in whatever way she wants – and I am careful about picking my battles.

    • http://rmabry.com Richard Mabry

      Didn’t George Carlin make out the original list? Oh, wait. Your girls (and maybe you and Brian) are too young to remember George and the list of words you can’t say on TV.

    • http://rmabry.com Richard Mabry

      Wow, Disqus gave me 3 error messages, then posted all 3 tries.

    • http://rmabry.com Richard Mabry

      Didn’t George Carlin make out the original list? Oh, wait. Your girls (and maybe you and Brian) are too young to remember George and the list of words you can’t say on TV.

      • http://www.oikosliving.com/ cherylsmith

        What a funny guy!

  • http://twitter.com/RachelleGardner Rachelle Gardner

    And for those of you who aren’t “there” yet with your kids… a sense of humor is crucial in ALL of these uncomfortable conversations!

    Last night at the DINNER TABLE our conversation revolved around penises (yes, you read that right) and included my husband making a joke about my daughter getting a good grade on her “testes.” (Yep!) I have daughters, not sons, mind you. The 12-year-old had mentioned that they’d begun the reproductive unit in science class, and they’d started by studying male anatomy… and one thing led to another and soon we were all laughing our heads off. It was a great way to take the “bite” out of those anatomical words that make us cringe.

    • http://www.oikosliving.com/ cherylsmith

      we have sons and daughters (and steps). dinner conversations at our house sound very similar!

  • http://twitter.com/ChristiMcGuire Christi McGuire

    My girls were talking about “bad words” last night in the bathtub. I was just listening in. The younger one was begging the older one to tell her what the bad words are. So the older one said bad words are “poopy, pee, hate, stupid.” Then she added the “sh” word! I quickly stepped into the conversation! I’m glad I have to deal with “sh” first!

    • http://www.susandimickele.com Susan DiMickele

      Bathtub conversations are my very favorite Christi.

  • http://www.gettingdownwithjesus.com/ Jennifer@GDWJ

    Susan, Just smiling here at your sense of humor, and the way spin a great little story out of an uncomfortable situation.

    And yeah. Jesus’ advice for the potty mouth. That’s golden.

  • http://www.jennysulpizio.com/ Jennysulpizio

    Oh, Susan! That is tough and not fun at all. You handled it so well though and had a great “mommy moment” there for sure.

    Prior to moving about a year ago, my husband and I lived in this bubble. Our kids went to a small Christian school and knew nothing of curse words. After relocating to the big city and into a subdivision with lots of kiddos, my children were introduced to some very colorful vocabulary (and not in a positive way, mind you). My kids are only 6 and 8. Huge sigh.

    I long for my “bubble” again but know that’s fairly unrealistic. Instead, I now have to deal with all of the hard parenting issues I managed to avoid for so long. It’s not fun but God does give us the opportunity for teachable moments with our kiddos, and I guess I need to learn to embrace them a bit better. In fact, just last week, my daughter asked what my tampons were for…good times for sure!

    • http://www.susandimickele.com Susan DiMickele

      I hear your struggle. My kids are in a bit of a bubble, but next year it will burst big time when my oldest hits middle school.

  • Jenny Sulpizio

    Oh, Susan! That is tough and not fun at all. You handled it so well though and had a great “mommy moment” there for sure.

    Prior to moving about a year ago, my husband and I lived in this bubble. Our kids went to a small Christian school and knew nothing of curse words. After relocating to the big city and into a subdivision with lots of kiddos, my children were introduced to some very colorful vocabulary (and not in a positive way, mind you). My kids are only 6 and 8. Huge sigh.

    I long for my “bubble” again but know that’s fairly unrealistic. Instead, I now have to deal with all of the hard parenting issues I managed to avoid for so long. It’s not fun but God does give us the opportunity for teachable moments with our kiddos, and I guess I need to learn to embrace them a bit better. In fact, just last week, my daughter asked what my tampons were for…good times for sure!

  • http://lauraboggess.com Laura Boggess

    What a great conversation! My, we are having some hard talks these days, aren’t we? That’s the think when they keep growing. They just keep asking/wondering and it’s wonderful and challenging all at once. Sounds like you handled this one like a champ, Susan.

  • http://www.soapweedsolutions.com/ Tara

    That was a great way to handle it. We just had the middle finger discussion at our house last week. My youngest (age 6) asks “who said sticking your middle finger up is bad”. I had to answer honestly, “I don’t know who started it, just don’t do it”

    • http://www.susandimickele.com Susan DiMickele

      It’s a darn good question. We haven’t had the middle finger discussion yet!

    • http://www.susandimickele.com Susan DiMickele

      BTW – love your new photo Tara!

  • http://www.oikosliving.com/ cherylsmith

    This is fabulously funny! You weave humor into story so brilliantly.

    Now, about that skinny dipping. At a church camp? Oh, we’ll have to swap stories sometime. I have a friend…

  • Leanne

    This happened in first grade for us thanks to school friends with older siblings and parents who are better suited to be siblings. Its life, and its oh so messy. But you’ve really got to roll with the punches to parent effectively!