My son Michael officially became a teenager last December. He received his “Welcome To Adolescence” starter kit complete with acne, mood swings and the latest voice cracking technology.
I started to realize that with Jacob only two years away from the same landmark birthday, I was pretty much screwed. I remember being a teenager and all the havoc that changing hormones can wreak on the body and mind so I was preparing for a stressful five or six years. What I hadn’t prepared for was Michael’s odd birthday request: “Dad, now that I’m a teenager can I swear?”. I had no answer prepared for this question because I had never conceived of such a question being asked. Who asks their parents if they can swear? Usually you start doing it in front of your friends when no adults are around in order to sound cool or act tough. Occasionally you might let a “Shit” escape around your parents and based on their reaction, you probably won’t swear in front of them again until you reach your twenty’s. Heck, I know people with children of their own that still won’t swear in front of their parents, yes mostly out of respect but some because they don’t want their kids to see Grandma bitch slap dad in front of them.
Michael must have sensed my puzzlement because he quickly specified ” Only, crap, hell, damn and sucks”. I had to hold back my laughter because I probably dropped my first f-bomb around ten and here this kid was asking permission to say “crap”. It actually made me proud that my kids didn’t swear. I wish I could say that it was from example but my ex-wife and I have slipped and said words we shouldn’t have in front of them more times than I can count. No I honestly think it’s because of all the adult movies they watch. “Wait” you’re saying,”It’s because of R-rated movies that they DON’T swear?”. Believe it or not, yes. I was raised on movies like Die Hard, RoboCop and A NIghtmare On Elm St. as a kid. Especially Nightmare On Elm St. My mom was a huge horror fan and as weird as it sounds, family movie night often contained beheading and disembowelings.
I ended up carrying on this tradition with my own kids with the caveat that if they ever repeated anything that they heard or saw on the screen they wouldn’t watch anything other than G-rated movies for the rest of their lives. So far it’s worked. Not only do they not swear but they’ve never gotten in trouble for fighting at school, never fashioned a glove out of knives and stabbed anyone. I’ve always felt that it isn’t violent movies or video games that lead to violence in real life, but rather parents who don’t properly put such media in prospective. My kids have never watched a movie or show I haven’t seen first and we always discuss the subject matter. I have always stressed to my children that the movies they watch and games they play are fiction. Good for entertainment, not good as life lessons.
I still had to come up with an answer for Michael. I felt so weird giving my son permission to swear but on the other hand I felt even weirder having a thirteen year old that never got a chance to say “This crap sucks”. In the end I gave my blessing for Michael to use the words “crap, hell, damn, and sucks”. BUT only after a lengthy discussion on when and where it was appropriate to use such language ( which pretty much boiled down to not at school and not in front of your mother). The results that night were hilarious. It was like a dam had burst but the water didn’t know which way to flow. I kept hearing sentences like “The hell I didn’t play the crap out of that damn game!”. The best thing I can compare it to is in Star Trek IV (yes the one with the whales) when Spock tries swearing for the first time with equally hilarious results.
So of course after all this Jacob asked if he too could swear now. I told him not until he turned 13 and he bought it. So I will conceivably be going through this awkaward exchange again in a couple of years. What a crappy damn suckfest that’ll be.