Is Cursing At Kids A Good Way To Toughen Them Up?
“Shut the f*ck up before I bust you in the f*cking mouth!”
You turn around to see Peaches, cursing out her pre-K son. It’s crazy because, unlike the moms that you hear from two blocks away from the school, mouths running like Usain Bolt, Peaches is usually pretty quiet. The little boy holds his head down as she continues her tirade.
“Come on,” you say, grabbing your daughter’s five-year-old hand.
“Mommy, why’s that lady so mad?”
“I don’t know. Sometimes mommies get mad.”
“Well, she was real mad!”
Like seeing road kill, thoughts of Peaches going ham on her kid leave you unsettled. You can’t stop thinking about how damaging it must be to the little boy’s psyche to be spoken to like that. It reminds you of a few months ago when you were having a play date with another mom here in Jersey City, and after trying unsuccessfully to get her seven-year-old daughter to listen, the mom said, “You lucky I don’t bust you in the mouth.” Your ears did a little twitch, which she must have noticed because she laughed it off, “I just say that to get her attention.”
It’s kinda interesting though, that two moms from the neighborhood are both cursing at their kids. Are you missing something?
You do your best to shelter your kids from the four-letter words that you grew up with. The ones your Granny used so liberally to pepper her conversation. You also monitor what she watches on TV. There are few music videos in your home that don’t feature something big and fluffy. But it seems as soon as you walk out the door, someone is dropping f-bombs all over the place. Most times, it’s kids. Especially, the teens who must come out of the womb cursing they do it so naturally. It’s making you wonder if perhaps you’re out-of-touch with what’s going on today. Is this way of sheltering them from such language even good for the kids? Are you bringing them up to be soft, and unable to deal with the world’s sharp edges?
Just the other day you were speaking to the friend from the playdate, and she was telling you how she’s teaching her daughter a “black code.” Having no idea what she was talking about, she explained that a black code, in this case, is a way of interacting with the police that won’t get you killed. She’s teaching her to say, “Yes, officer, no, officer, what can I do for you today, officer?” She says it’s a conversation that she wanted to have with her when she was older, but it’s more important to have it now, when she can point to the TV and use Ferguson and all the other killings as an example.
GoodGodAlmighty! It seems like a lot to put in her young head! You ask if it’s even realistic that her 7 year-old daughter will get stopped by the police? She looks at you like you’re the one who’s crazy. “With what’s going on in this country right now, anything could happen to any of us.”
Damn. She’s right. Growing up, your mom taught you and your brother a code of conduct with the police: Always be respectful and don’t reach for anything. But you got away from it, thinking that it was a way of being that served a prior generation. Today, things are different. At least that’s what you thought. Now, everyday is a reminder that things are no better than when our parents were growing up. In fact, they feel worse.
You call your best friend Lee, to see if he thinks you’re raising marshmallows. He’s from Newark and has a huge family of sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews who are doing well. Maybe he has some insight into how these moms are raising their kids, and if they have the right idea. He says, though his mom could get sharp-tongued with him growing up, she always caught herself before blacking out. But language like that was common. “That’s just how we talk, but it’s not just us, it’s Spanish, Italian…I don’t think they really mean they’re going to bust them in the mouth.” On whether he thinks there’s any benefit to cursing at kids, he says, “Only if you’re toughening them up. If you believe in that.” You tell him that’s exactly what you mean. Should you be toughening your kids up, given everything that’s going on out there in the streets? “I don’t think you should be setting your kids up to succeed in the streets. Yea, they won’t be punks, but they’ll probably be dead or in jail. It’s your job to set them up for something better.”
He’s right too. But it’s tricky because you want your kids to be able to defend themselves in any environment, but you don’t know if you want to berate them in order to get them there.
The next day, when dropping your daughter off to school, you end up talking to her teachers Ms. Hernandez and Ms. P. They say they hear parents swearing at their kids all the time and it poses a real problem for them because the kids don’t know how to listen when they’re speaking to them in a regular voice.
You think about the times when your kids haven’t been listening and all you do is scream. Even “Good morning!!!” comes out with three exclamation points. The reason you pull back to a normal tone isn’t always because they’re listening, it’s because you don’t want screaming to become the norm; the only thing they respond to. Like those kids that think “lil’ n*gga” is actually their name.
You won’t knock these moms for their choices, but going down that path is not for you. Should you feel the need to toughen your daughter up, which isn’t a bad idea, you’ll get her into karate.