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VOICES: A Forum for Community Issues

An Expert's View

July 03, 1999|FERN LIPPERT | Psychologist, marriage and family practice, Calabasas

Kids use profanity as a way of expressing themselves. It is a learning process, a part of growing up. They try out certain things.

Parents should be clear about their stand on profanity. When children swear at a young age, some adults think it is cute and encourage this behavior. But when the kids get older and they start swearing, the kids receive a punishment for their bad behavior. These adolescents are getting a double message from the adults.

There needs to be accountability for what we say and what we do. When teens get away with cursing because teachers are more concerned with their own safety to stop it, or because parents avoid confronting the problem, the teens find they can control the authority figures.

If a child's swearing is constant and has a lot of power behind it, then his parents should consider taking the child for counseling. Habitual cursing is a cry for help.

When adolescents swear when they are with their friends, the bad words are almost terms of endearment. But when they swear in front of strangers, it is inappropriate. Sometimes teens have a difficult time separating language that is appropriate with friends and inappropriate in public.

Adolescents go through processes called separation and individuation. Separation is the stage when kids separate from their parents and individuation is the teen's attempt to become his own person. Teenagers are trying to figure out where they fit in this world. They feel a lot of frustration because they cannot be adults. But most teens surpass this stage and move on to the next stage of their lives.

Older people who constantly curse have not surpassed the stage of swearing. For people who don't seem to ever get beyond that developmental stage, swearing becomes a lifelong habit. Swearing comes from the conscious part of the brain; people are aware of what they are doing. But after a while, when swearing becomes habitual, they are not even aware of the rate at which they swear.

People with low self-confidence tend to swear more often. These people use foul words to communicate. Yet what they communicate is "stay away from me." Then the swearers feel more isolated and continue to curse.

Habitual cursing is a sign of an unhealthy state of mind. Constant swearing can be a sign of deeper problems, such as anger, hurt, disappointment, fear and alienation. When people feel they cannot control their situation, they are more likely to swear. The louder they become, the more in control they feel.

Habitual swearers often are not even aware of their behavior's impact. They could be fired from their job because of their inappropriate language, could not be able to maintain relationships, and not know why.

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