Tuesday, April 11, 2017


*Trigger warning – This post contains vocabulary and themes that may not be appropriate for your children. Please wait until after your children go to bed to read this one!

It was 35 years ago, and yet my mother still has difficulty getting over possibly one of ‘her’ most embarrassing moments. I was 7, my sisters had moved out of home and I rarely had friends over to play games with. My parents had brought a traveling preacher home for dinner one evening and whilst mum prepared dinner, this very kind gentleman offered to play a game with me. Problem was, we were playing checkers, which requires someone to go first. Rather than taking the liberty of going first, I decided to choose who should start by using the very reliable and yet random method known as ‘eenie meenie, miney, mo’ (Spelling of the rhyme provided by Justin Bieber in his song – Eenie meenie – cheers Justin!).

And so I began…….
Eenie, meenie, miney, mo
Catch a n@$?@r by the toe
If he hollers, let him go
Eeenie, meenie, miney, mo

My mum came running into the living room quite flustered. “Louise, where did you learn that?”
She then turned to our guest, “I’m so sorry, I’ve never heard her say that before!”
I was totally confused. What did I do wrong? I don’t think our guest was embarrassed by it, his cheeks weren’t red, but it was hard to tell as he did have particularly dark skin on account of his African heritage.

With much blustering and hand gesturing, I surmised that I had used a word that for some reason was offensive for people with dark skin. To be honest, it wasn’t until I read ‘To kill a mockingbird’ that I truly realised just what emotions my use of that word would have evoked for our dinner guest all those years ago.

As I said in my introductory blog, many of our parents were brought up in an era where we avoided discussing things that were thought to be private or indelicate. The word ‘nigger’ was one of those words.

When I am faced with my children uttering words that make my ears turn a little pink, I try to take the following approach:

1)  Approach my children calmly, without a trace of anger.

2) Ask them to repeat the full sentence or phrase they uttered. It is quite possible they have mispronounced a different word and had no idea how the word sounded to me. A quick lesson in how to pronounce their intended word correctly should do the trick.

3) If my child has indeed said a ‘bad word’, ask them if they know what it means. If they already know the meaning, you may need to simply explain to them why we don’t use the word and the offence the word may cause to other listeners. Due to my adherence to the Christian worldview, I would explain to my children that I want them to use words that build up and encourage other people. Using words that put people down or may cause other people offence goes against that goal.

If it turns out that my child does not have a full understanding of the word being used, then I would explain the word in terms that are age appropriate. 

If the word is related to a person’s cultural heritage or appearance, I may say something like, “This word is used by people who want to be unkind to men and women with dark skin/who come from Asia/have an intellectual disability. It is a word that is often used to convey hate and anger. I know you didn’t mean it this way, but it may still cause pain to other people who hear it. Please don’t say it again.” If the child is older, I may even give them a book or article to read about the history of the people group they are speaking about. 

If the word is related to sexuality, I would definitely tailor my explanation to what the child already knows. For your average 5-12 year old, I might take this approach. “The word you just said is an impolite/rude/crass way of talking about something that God originally created for adults to enjoy. It is a not a word that that should be used for fun. When you use it, you are taking something very special and using it to hurt and offend others.” 

If the child is older, I may say, “That word is a crass way of talking about sex/female genitals etc.  I will tell you what those words mean, but I want you to refer to these things by their proper term and in the proper context from now on.”

Once children are armed with the true meaning of what they are saying and understand the impact the word may have upon other people, it is hoped they should stop using the word. If a child continues to use the word, then you may be dealing with an ongoing issue of disobedience rather than a mild case of ‘potty-mouth’.   

The days of parents turning red-faced and embarrassed or angry really should be over. If we want our children and teenagers to come to us to ask about ‘taboo’ subjects, they need to trust us to give them a balanced, honest, helpful response. We need to lay the foundations for that from a very early age and establish a long track record of trust and unflappable honesty. If we don’t, there will be plenty of peers, teachers, web sites and worse, that will fill in the gaps….and believe me, you really don’t want that!

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