Words Are Not Just Words: A Letter to My Sons

Dear Sons,

This letter has been brewing for awhile now, and trust me, it’s of no fault of your own. I write this for your future reference as you haven’t yet crossed into this territory, but I know that someday you will. At that point, I will sit your behind down in my desk chair and force you to read this letter. Hello, Future Brothers.

I love these goofies.
This is what you looked like when I wrote this letter.

Over the past few years, I’ve seen a trend in parenting discussions toward the belief that “words are just words.” The belief is that it’s okay for your kids to cuss, use not-so-nice words and generally pick and choose their own colorful vocabulary because words are just words. I’m here to tell you in no uncertain terms that’s not true. Words are not just words.

“I don’t censor my kids.” “I let them say what they’re feeling.” “I talk to my kid like he’s an adult, and if that includes a few cuss words, so be it.” “By making certain words “bad,” you’re just giving them more power.”

Bull. Yes, I see what I did there.

I’ve heard all of the excuses under the sun for letting young children cuss, swear, curse and generally run rampant at the mouth. I have less of a problem with adorable little four-year-old kids cussing than I do with what your father and I have run into over the past few weeks.

Oh, teenagers, how your foul mouths betray you.

In the checkout line tonight, I had to listen to two teens use a number of words as they tried to impress the cute cashier. She was seemingly unimpressed and I just wanted to tell them that if they toned it down (and wore a hat with some curve in the bill), they’d be far more likely to attract her positive attention. It’s not that I hadn’t said any of those words. I just don’t say them in public to a cashier in a store with a child standing behind me in line. Because I have manners.


While at the high school football game with the two of you earlier this year, when you were still four- and six-years-old, we walked past the student section to hear one boy ask a girl how her “butt” was. He didn’t say butt. If I ever hear you ask a girl, in public, at a volume of a yell, how her “butt” is, I will grab your ear and pull you out of the stands. Maybe they were bike riding earlier that day and she fell. Maybe she hurt her butt. Maybe the young gentleman without a shirt in the cold of November could have said, “How are you feeling? Are you still in pain?”

Your dad was behind a group of teens at a local restaurant a couple of weeks ago. He wanted to apologize to the cashier for the words the group had used and the way that they were behaving. He was embarrassed. He almost said something, but he knew it wouldn’t go well. Their language was so bad that he said he would have left if you two had been with him. It was that bad. And your dad has used some words in his day. I’m sure you’ve heard them.

Now, I get it. I’m not a big ole stick in the mud. I remember being a teenager and even a pre-teen. I remember thinking it was funny to cuss when the adults weren’t listening. As an adult now, I like a well-placed cuss word when I’m in the heat of the moment. But here’s the point: The “moment” is not repeatedly, every other word, or used to be vulgar to women or men. The “moment” is rarely, if ever, in a public place with mixed company. The “moment” is most definitely not to impress someone; if someone is impressed with your bad language, you’re hanging with the wrong people.

I’m not going to tell you to never cuss. That’s silly. I cuss at times and I’m sure you know that by now. But you don’t get to be a bully with your words (or your fists, but that’s another post). You don’t get to call people stupid or “retarded” or, like the little boy on your Kindergarten field trip, “gay.” You don’t get to hurt people’s feelings or make them feel belittled or “less than” with your words. You can tell jokes with your friends when you’re in the right environment; you can throw out a word here or there when you aren’t going to risk making yourself look bad. You can use them in the heat of the moment, when you’re just really ticked off, in the safety and understanding of our own home. But no, I’m not going to tell you that “words are just words” and that cussing willy-nilly is okay.

You can’t walk into a job interview and expect the employer to accept a raunchy vocabulary. You can’t comment on a coworker’s “butt” and not expect to be slapped with a sexual harassment suit. You can’t say certain things as an adult, and it’s my job, as one of your parents, to help you realize that now. Words can hurt others. Words can hurt you. Words can hurt your chance at a future. Words can hurt your reputation. Words can and will follow you, especially if you write them but even if they are “merely” spoken. Words have weight. Words have meaning. Words have connotation and denotation. Words mean something.

All of this rambling comes down to this: You are judged by the words you use whether you want to believe it or not. You’re also judged if you can’t speak properly; God help you if I ever hear you say “we was” or “I seen.” I want you to think about this as you talk with your friends, both in public and in the safety of our home. I want you to choose your words with purpose. I want you to own your words. And when you cuss, I want you to do it with feeling and passion at the appropriate times, not just because you can. Make it mean something when you say one of those “ugly” words.

Make all of your words mean something.

You won’t regret it.

Love Always,
Your Occasionally Cussing Mom Who Does So with Feeling and Passion at Mostly Appropriate Times


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10 Replies to “Words Are Not Just Words: A Letter to My Sons”

  1. Can I send my trucker-cussing son over to you for a lesson on this? Please?? Cause we are at a loss of how to stop the swearing that comes out of my 10 year old.

    1. Have you told him that it’s okay at home but not elsewhere and that the elsewhere comes with consequences?

      I’m not going to pretend that my kids will never cuss, but I really hope to teach them appropriate venues. I feel this is a hard one.

  2. I agree completely. I am all for a well placed curse word added for effect, but as a normal, everyday part of your vocabulary? Nah.
    I received a voice mail from my 16 year old daughter recently, and heard her use the king cuss word at the end of the call when she thought she had hung up. It was not directed at anyone in particular, just in discussion with a friend. I didn’t make a big deal about it, but I did bring it up in discussion. I asked her to consider the idea of her grandmother overhearing her talk like that, or the teacher who will write her college recommendations. She said she didn’t know why she said it, and that she really doesn’t like that word and would be more careful in the future. What is funny is that I remember my father having a similar conversation with me when I was her age.
    And, what is with the flat billed hats?

    1. Oh man, flat-billed hats. Pure, unadulterated hate.

      Yes, I don’t think I ever went on a cuss-filled rant in a public place as a teen, but I certainly said things that I wouldn’t have wanted my Grandma to hear me say.

  3. This is great.

    For a period of time my oldest daughter’s favorite words were “MF.” I would find the words doodled on notebooks, book covers and her things. She said, “I just like how it sounds…” when we talked about it. Then I brought up the doodles, that teachers, children, and everyone could see them. The doodles stopped, and so did the f-bombs in public places.

  4. I cringe when I hear a majority of teens talking. Then I feel like putting on my old grumpy-pants and letting them know just how uneducated, ridiculous, and silly they sound. When a person swears and uses foul language without respect or regard for the people around them it shows that they themselves clearly do not deserve respect.

    And yes, I have a few words that I use from time to time but I am always aware of who is around and how those words might be perceived.

  5. I love this.

    We call them “grown-up words” at my house because only grown-ups are allowed to use them. I don’t know at what point I will consider the kid only enough to use grown-up words, but it’s going to be a LOOOOOONG time. First she has to get really good at saying what she thinks/feels without using any curses.

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