Q: My son has recently started to use foul language at home. I have been notified that he occasionally uses it at school as well. Where is he getting this from and how do I stop it?
A: Find out when and how he uses foul language in the home or in school. Is it in anger? Do the words come out of his mouth in casual, calm conversation? It just may be that his “trying out” foul language could be his burgeoning independence. He could be trying to navigate his social group or “fit in” with them. He could also be trying to establish his social standing in his group or in simple terms, be “cool.” He could be seeking attention.
Foul language aside, we, as adults, often need to navigate various social situations, and your son will need to learn this, too. We speak differently when we are with our friends, as opposed to being in a work or school environment. Your son will need to learn what language is appropriate in different situations, just as we must as adults.
Examine your language at home. How do the adults in the house cope with and demonstrate frustration or anger? Do expletives pop up in their casual language when talking about an everyday experience? Perhaps, you may vent to your spouse or others in the home, which your son has overheard. Kids notice everything and may adopt the methods you employ, even if you are unaware of it at the time.
If he is seeking your attention, now is the time to give it. Let him know that this kind of language is not acceptable at home or at school and adopt a strategy. At home, an example might be to have him put a quarter into a jar every time he uses a foul word. This will force language into his consciousness and likely he will not want to give away his money. It is also in-the-moment discipline.
Foul language at school is a different matter. It cannot continue. If it does, I’d say a discussion is in order with your son, with you, and with the school counselor and teachers to say it is not acceptable and to determine appropriate strategies.
Whether he has heard foul language in a heated moment at home, in a movie or at a friend’s house, the take away is that it is not acceptable to repeat at home or at school. Wearing a good-natured smile on our face when we get caught, if we as the adult slips up, a quarter goes into the jar, too.
Anne-Marie Hughes is a local middle and high school guidance counselor. Her column appears the first Sunday of every month in The Sunday Gazette during the school year. Send questions to Ask The Counselor to firstname.lastname@example.org.