"A word in earnest is as good as a speech"
~Charles Dickens: Bleak House

Friday, February 3, 2012

Family Friday ..... the words we teach our children

I have been thinking a lot about language. It started the other day when I heard a news report about Newt Gingrich referring to President Obama as the "food stamp" president and the implications that has on the topic of race in our country.

Then last night the 5-year-old brought home the greatest book "Wild About Books" by Judy Sierra. It was the greatest play on words and used "big" words in a way that children want to know what they mean. We read it so many times last night that my throat hurt:

"As the cheetah's new novel began to take shape,
He read chapters each night to the Barbary ape;
And although the gazelle couldn't spell very well,
Like everyone else, she had stories to tell.

Imagine the hippo's enormous surprise
When her memoir was given the Zoolitzer Prize."

And this morning a friend shared a blog on Facebook: "Being Retarded"

It really made me start to think about how we teach our children to communicate. I hear it everyday -
"That is so gay!"
"You are so retarded"
"She is such a douche"
And don't even get me started on the "N" word!

When I was a kid I was called a lot of names. I was different and sat alone a lot. There were a lot of reasons for that and I have gotten over them. But I remember very clearly coming home from school crying and my mother saying:
"Just tell them sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me"
I tried it and the name calling got worse because now they wanted to make me hurt. And words can hurt!

When I was a kid bullying was about hitting. It was about fear of being physically hurt. Grown-ups, school officials, the police were not interested in name calling. They were not interested in groups of popular kids communicating their disdain for the "weak" in hurtful words. I recently read an article on verbal bullying and it was interesting to me that we now have a word for it.

But the reality is parents allow it. Parents use those phrases. Parents allow children to watch "reality" television that use those words. Parents allow their children to use those words.

I heard a small child once call another small child a "dumb ass" and instead of reprimanding the child and telling her not to use bad words or call another child names; the mother giggle and thought it was cute. The child then ran around the table singing "your a dumb ass."

I believe in free speech! I am a liberal after all. I believe that when I am out with my children and I hear this type of language I can use it as a learning moment and explain why that is not appropriate, why it is hurtful (usually loud enough for the other parent to hear me - I admit to being passive/aggressive). I believe that I have the right to turn off a television show I find offensive. I have the right to not allow my child to watch a show I think has hurtful language and poor treatment of others. That is my job as a parent. It is a job that I love!!!

Parenting is a job that gets harder everyday ..... televisions, Internet, smart phones ..... we have less and less control over what information our children consume when they are not sitting directly in front of us. And then there are the children in school whose parents think it is cute to hear their child say the word "dumb ass." Those children have much more influence on my children then television ever will.

So I combat the language issue in my home - when we talk about each other, when we talk about others. I teach that words can be as hard as stone .... and they should be thrown about with caution ..... after all, we are all people who live in glass houses.


  1. ahh, the politics of language... a powerful tool, a powerful weapon... it can be used to 'make' or 'break'...

    and i can't believe i missed this post!!!

  2. Great article! I noticed you have numerous articles that would be of interest to teens and families. We have a website, www.FamilyFirstAid.org, which I believe would be a great resource for your website visitors. Please check it out and consider adding us as resource to your blogs of interest, or the blog you follow list.
    Brenda W.