Parents Universal Resource Experts (Sue Scheff): Swearing Habit Among Kids

by Connect with Kids 

“I cussed again in that class so I got another detention … it’s just in my vocabulary.”

– Tyler, 15

Most four-letter words have been around for centuries, but many educators, authors and parents feel that today’s teens are using those words more than any generation in the past.  Teenagers may not think that’s a problem, but experts have a different take.

In a casual conversation between Verona and her friends, you need to “bleep” out a lot of words.

“Everyone swears,” says Verona, 14.

“I mean, it’s nothing big to us,” says Tyler, 15.

Experts estimate that the average teen uses between 80 and 90 swear words a day.

“I see kids all the time now who talk to their parents that way and talk to their friends that way,” says Deborah Christy, English teacher.

Where are kids picking up this language? Researchers say they hear it from each other and from the media, including movies, music and television.

“A lot more is accepted in the 7 to 9 o’clock time on TV. There’s a lot more that is accepted now than 10 years ago. So if kids hear things in the mainstream media, they are going to be more used to it, it’s not going to have the shock value, it’s going to seem more acceptable,” says Nancy McGarrah, Ph.D., psychologist.

“When children have seen that happening on television, they think it’s okay for them in their real lives,” says Christy.

The problem is that cussing can become a habit. 

“And while your best friend may appreciate that it’s a joke, a stranger won’t, an employer won’t, a teacher won’t,” says Christy.

Tyler got sent to detention for saying the f-word in front of a teacher and then…

“I cussed again in that class so I got another detention …it’s just in my vocabulary,” says Tyler.

Experts say that parents should explain to their children that four-letter words send a message about you and the person you’re talking to.

“It’s a question of respect. It’s the image that I want you to present to the world… it’s how I want to be treated and it’s how others want to be treated,” says Christy.

Tips for Parents

  • In much of today’s teen culture, it has become acceptable to swear and verbally abuse others — more than in any previous generation. While parents may not be able to totally prevent abusive language from entering their homes (in music, television and other media), teens should understand the limits their parents set. (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, CAMH)
  • Language is a powerful means by which teens control the actions of others, including dating partners, parents and peers. Be especially vigilant for expressions that put down others, no matter how “innocent” or “joking” they may seem, and point out what these expressions really communicate. (CAMH)
  • Try to initiate positive communication with your teenager whenever the opportunity arises. If you are experiencing conflict with your teen over rules, chores, school, peers, etc., talk to them about it, but also attempt to have positive conversations with your teen about other things. (CAMH)
  • Parents who try and enforce absolutes are often in conflict with their teens and most often are kept in the dark about their activities. The alternative is to discuss choices and the pros and cons of these new-found opportunities in a non-threatening manner, and obtain their understanding in advance of consequences for breach of trust. (CAMH) Connect with Kids research-based DVDs, such as Civil Wars, help parents and teens talk about tough issues in a non-threatening way.
  • Set high standards and have high expectations for your teens regarding their behavior, and enforce these standards with consistent discipline. However, you should provide an atmosphere of acceptance and psychological autonomy where the teen’s views and individuality can develop freely. (CAMH)


  • Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)