Last Updated on March 11, 2024

Have you noticed the words teenagers use on Facebook? They know we’re watching. What do you think they’re saying when we aren’t?

Perhaps most upsetting to me is how normalized profanity has become to the point that girls use a derogatory term—you know the one—to greet each other. The common use of profane language is at an all-time high.

How do we talk to our kids about it without being legalistic? I can help.

It takes one to know one and I’ll just say up right that at certain times in my life I’ve had a potty mouth. The most recent was about ten years ago when a Christian counselor who was also a pastor suggested that cussing at Bob would “release my repressed anger.” The next few weeks (to use a famous line from the film, A  Christmas Story) I “wove a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging over Lake Michigan.”

It all came to a screeching halt one day when I found myself using the Mother of all Cusswords when a driver cut me off on Route 322. “Lord,” I prayed, “I don’t like what’s inside of me. These words aren’t hurting Bob or that driver. They’re hurting me. Teach me.”

Here is what God showed me and how I’ve talked to my own children about their language:

1. We should not be legalistic about our words.  I have a dear friend who is a New York Times bestselling author and gets hate mail from Christians who threaten never to read her books if she ever includes a cuss word. (She’s used them sparingly to contextualize the evil in a character; a child abuser, for example, may cuss.)

She’s in good company. Both the Apostle Paul (Philippians 3:8–the word scubala is translated as “rubbish”) and Luke (Luke 7:39–the word dapedo is translated as “what kind”) use a word which was in their contemporary day somewhat of obscene language to help us understand the context of their writing. It’s gritty.

Apparently, there’s some room for potty language when it’s for the instruction of mankind within literature. Telling your kids this fact may deflect them from argument as you present the rest of the argument. Which is this: few and far between are the instances where obscene language is acceptably used for context because our words are a conduit ushering in tremendous spiritual power.

2. Our words are a conduit. Words can be powerful. God spoke the universe into existence. Jesus is actually called “the Word” in the book of John. Of course, our words don’t have the same power that God’s do, but the point is not lost: words matter.

The Scriptures address the power of our own words, for good or for bad. We are given the power of prayer and blessing to be a conduit that transports the power of heaven to this earth. James 3:10 suggests that both blessing (good words) and cursing (bad words) must not come from the same mouth.

I think that this also suggests that we have to choose if our language will be a conduit for the power of heaven or the power of hell. When your daughter deliberately misspells a profanity when greeting a friend on Facebook, I believe that both her spirit and her friends were negatively impacted for destruction and woundedness by the careless but normal use of bad language.

3. Our words reveal what’s inside of us. Matthew writes that out of the overflow of our heart, our mouths speak. Each time I find myself saying something even mildly profane, I find myself very aware of one thing. My heart is not in a good place. In more recent years, my ugly words reveal a heart full of bitterness or anger. When I was my kids age, it was often that my heart was fueled by hunger for popularity. (The Bible calls that fear of man!)

It’s time to talk to our kids about an important resolution: to stop cussing. When is the best time to have this conversation? When they are 12 or 13, but anytime is a good time.

My sweet Robby (who is now a solid 23 year old) struggled with language in first grade. (We know because he matter-of-factly let one fly right in front of his dad and I as if he was reciting his ABC’s. Proud as punch. No shame in using a word I didn’t even know he knew!) When we talked to him about it, he was hearing really foul words all day long including the mother of them all. You know the one. And so began our family resolution to stop cussing!

{Editor’s Note: This post first appeared on MomLife Today on January 10, 2014 … the problem still exists and this post was helpful to so many we wanted to draw it to your attention by reposting! Intentional parenting matters…get after it moms!}

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  1. great encouragement to moms, Dannah. the slide of language shouldn’t be ignored so bravo for taking it on!

  2. Katie Howard Clemens says:

    LOVE this! Last Fall one day after school my first grader asked me in the car “Mom, what does ___ (Mother of All Curse Words) mean?”

    A friend had seen it on a picture in his father’s car and told him about it at school. He didn’t believe it was actually a real word. I’m so thankful he asked me about it but, wow, that was a difficult conversation to have with a boy who hasn’t yet even asked where babies come from.

  3. anonymous says:

    Thanks so much for writing this article. I was hoping to get your advice on a resolution for parents to stop cussing/swearing…not only our children.

    I remember a couple of times my father yelling at me and using the “D” word…that’s where I personally was introduced. Then when I got involved with a guy, he started using the “F” word a lot…surprisingly, I never knew what exactly that meant, until then. My mama NEVER used a swear/cuss word or even euphomisms, i.e., gosh, gee, OMG, dang, etc. Unfortunately, I have and more. I have been so angry (which typically stems from frustration or being tired) at times, that it just has spewed from my mouth…right in front of my baby boy, who is now 2.5 years old. I asked the Lord, and promised myself, that I would never cuss and swear in front of my kids, but have failed miserably. There was this one time that I got so angry, I was the one who yelled at my little boy…with ALL the words of a sailor. Since that day, I haven’t repeat it, because it even scared me how upset I got. I asked my little boy to forgive me and the Lord, but was wondering if there are any other mamas, who consider themselves godly and a Christian, but struggle with this also?

  4. We just made a family resolution to clean up our words last week. We made a list of unacceptable words (even ones that aren’t “cuss” words, but aren’t acceptable either) and a consequence for adults (monetary) and children (loss of privilege). Thank you for sharing.

  5. Great perspective. Thanks! I think, for me at least, cursing is an outer sign of an anxious heart. As a mom, I have to look inward at the same time I’m trying to teach my children.