Swearing around children

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A few weeks ago I was invited to speak on BBC local radio (and BBC Scotland) about bringing children to pubs. The experience was nerve-wracking, but what was particularly funny to me was that I was being put in a position I didn’t agree with. I don’t care if most pubs don’t let babies in, as long as there are other pubs that do.

One of the old men interviewers asked how I felt about children being around people swearing. Surely that isn’t a great environment for precious little ears, he said. I just laughed. If he thinks people only swear in pubs, he’s more deluded than he knows.

A couple of months ago, a friend shouted the f word in a busy children’s playground. Another, who has a newborn, did not moderate her language over lunch. A dad I know seems to increase the rate of cuss words in his everyday speech according to the additional children in his household.

I like to listen to podcasts or audiobooks when I’m hanging out with my toddler, in the car and sometimes at home, doing dishes or folding laundry. I stopped diving for the speaker when she was around eight months old, as even podcasts in the Family category on Spotify turn the air blue.

There is an option to hide explicit content on the app, so I turned it on for a few weeks. The songs that played in the ‘Kids Party’ playlist include Bad Guy, a song by a 16 year old that includes the lyrics “bruises on both my knees for you” and “might seduce your dad”. It also included YMCA recorded by the Minions, which is offensive for a whole other reason.

So no, I don’t think it’s irresposible to take children to pubs where they may hear bad language or inappropriate conversations.

Before having my daughter, I thought I would just teach her to swear correctly, when the situation called for it. Never at someone, I said. Then I had a baby and the whole thing started to make me uncomfortable. Nobody wants to hear a toddler say “oh shit” (with apologies to my parents for ruining my brother).

There’s another aspect that I hadn’t considered, pre-baby: we live in a society. It doesn’t matter what the rules are at home, because children interact with each other. They see one another on play dates and at soft play, at nursery and school. They need to understand what is and isn’t okay for them to say in public, and toddlers are too young to grasp the subtlties.

My question is, how are they meant to learn when the entire world around them is breaking the rules? If adults can’t recognise what language is appropriate in front of children, how do we think our toddlers will differentiate?

Why can’t we have adult content, discussions and storytelling, without every other word being ‘fuck’? I’m no prude, and am aware of the scientifically proven benefits of cussing, but there’s got to be a balance.

I want to listen to audiobooks with my kid in the room. I want to have conversations with my friends about their likes and frustations. I want to continue to exist in an adult world while looking after my child, and I want her to be included. It is vital if I want her to be a well-rounded person.

But until adults start being more courteous with their vocabulary in front of her while we are in playgrounds and cafes, I can’t see how it is any different to have her in the adult arena of a pub.