"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." Hearing swearwords from your child is proof plenty that words alone can make us cringe.
Swearing is a phase many teens go through as they begin to assert their independence. For many teens, it's not a question of if they'll use bad language, but when.
This question remains: What do you do when you hear your sweet sixteen-year-old use words that make you blush?
"Paradoxically, teens struggle with the need to fit in at the same time they're struggling with the need to stand out" (Cline and Fay 176).
Sometimes teens start swearing to rebel, and sometimes they swear because that's what everyone else is doing. Swearing is most likely a phase for our children as they make attempts in adolescence to try to become more adult and mature.
If we respond with anger, the lesson is generally that the rebellion worked, or that we are out of touch with what "real life"? is for them.
The calmer and less shocked we remain, the better.
To Create and Destroy
We know that words have power: "by the power of his word man came upon the earth, which earth was created by the power of his word" (Jacob 4:9). We understand that words have power to create, and know that words can also destroy.
Words can destroy reputations, chances for employment or education, self-esteem, and so on. A teen who is swearing is typically not taking any of this into account. It's probably that a teen who swears simply does not yet understand the power of words.
You can approach swearing and bad language like you approach other lessons you teach your children: matter-of-factly and with love.
"by the power of his word man came upon the earth, which earth was created by the power of his word"
We get to teach our teens that words have power. The world is certainly not going to teach them this lesson: unless it's in the form of showing them that words can be used to mock, degrade, and scorn.
These lessons can take on many forms: examining the effects of harsh words on others, looking at the effect of degrading words on ourselves, or understanding the effects of swearing on our chances at feeling the Spirit.
Some people find that breaking the habit of swearing is easier if there's an immediate consequence. One easy way to enforce this is for the teen to wear a rubber band on her wrist and snap it when she slips up and uses a bad word.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gave a talk entitled "Tongue of Angels," Ensign, May 2007. This has great material on the power of words. Basing a family home evening lesson on this, or just having its principles in mind may guide you as you teach your teen about the power of words.
A "swear jar" is a place where you put a certain amount of money each time you swear. This can be a family affair (it may sound strange, but the reinforcement it provides can be helpful) and everyone can participate. The goal, of course, is not to let the swear jar earn much money! You could even take this a step further by having a non-swear jar next to it. Every day the jar stays empty, Mom and Dad could donate a dollar to the "fun fund."
Dr. Latham suggests to parents: "You must learn to be calm, even when tempers are flaring. You must have a plan by which the privileges you control do the controlling for you. Remember, with older children you can no longer directly control their behavior" (297). This means setting up consequences in advance if a child has a swearing problem. This will likely stop the aversive behavior; however, this will need to be coupled with teaching the child a better way to really change behavior in the long term.
Parenting experts Dr. Cline and Jim Fay suggest appealing to your teen's intellect by saying something along the lines of: "Some people who use that sort of language have a very limited vocabulary. They don't know many words, so they pull out those boring old swear words and use them. That's probably why some people use them" (Cline and Fay 230).
We are inundated by the media--with words in combinations we never dreamed of as kids. However, if a teen is swearing or using off color language, make sure your own language is spic-and-span. Doing a language check on yourself will help you make sure you can teach the "clean language" lesson with power.
There is a lesson in the Family Home Evening Resource Book that includes ideas about how to stop swearing and why profanity is an offense to our Father in Heaven. See: "Profanity," Family Home Evening Resource Book 215. This is also available online on www.lds.org
Help your teen understand the power of short-term goals in changing behavior. For example, promising to "never, ever swear again for the rest of my life," is less doable than setting a goal like "I won't swear on the way home from school today." Starting small can help your teen understand she is in control.
Keeping language clean really comes down to self-control and self-mastery.
If a teen is swearing or using bad language, we are not powerless. We can teach them about the power of words. We can also use these moments as a chance to work with them on developing self-mastery, and help them feel the power of self-control.
Cline, Foster and Jim Fay. Parenting with Love ang Logic. USA: Pinion Press, 2006.
Latham, Glenn I. The Power of Positive Parenting. Logan, UT: P&T Ink, 2006.