Dear Bitter Butch,
My son will be entering 1st grade in the fall and the worst swear word he knows is “poop.” Should I give him a heads up of words that some of his colleagues might start using soon or is this just silly?
I’m going to answer your question; I am.
But first I want to tell you that you are not being silly. You are sweet.
I still remember sending my innocent children to First Grade. They were SO cute and little and innocent and I was utterly petrified. The world awaited. And sometimes the world can be really poopy.
And when our kids go out into that big world all vulnerable and small and anxious and hopeful, it’s hard to see much more than the poop.
What if the other kids are mean to them? What if they don’t fit in? What if they fit in too well and fall in with a boring stupid crowd that only cares about popularity and starts drinking at age 7? What if he falls down and skins his knee and cries and is embarrassed and the teacher is sort of mean about it?
What if the world is cruel and makes my kid feel stupid?
Such a human fear. And I can’t reassure you. The world is sometimes going to be cruel. And sometimes, kids make each other feel stupid.
And the thought of that is just excruciating, isn’t it? So we worry about stuff like cussing.
As for the answer to your question: I am ill-equipped as I’m a terrible example with a mouth like a longshoreman. My kids knew every single word on the Naughty list before they went to First Grade. This was not a decision on my part — my lack of verbal self-control made that decision for me.
So I asked my nearest kid experts what they think you should do, and the resounding answer was: don’t.
See, the world can be cruel and awful and full of poop.
But it also contains hidden delights, and one of them — one I robbed my children of — was the firm belief that the word you just learned from your peers: that dark and powerful and forbidden word — is a word that even your parents don’t know. You have a secret from them. You are becoming your own person. A cooler person. A person more in-the-know.
And maybe some kid will mock your kid for not knowing the words. But mostly, they will whisper them among themselves, awed by their power. And it will make them feel tough and cool, which is what cussing is for.
And it will help them start those first steps away from you — which every parent dreads and embraces and fears and desires.
Don’t do it, Dad. My kids have spoken.
BITTER BUTCH aka Haddayr Copley-Woods is a queer, a cripple, a nerd, a mom to two kids with neurological differences, and has a truckload of opinions on everything including sex and relationships, parenting, disability issues, family relationships, work dynamics, gender/sexuality issues, and etiquette. You can reach her with all your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org