When my children were between six and eight years old they discovered swearing.
They thought it was very daring and funny.
And, while it was just “Bum, Poo, Willy” I did too.
But then it graduated into serious swearing, and I had to think about how to approach it.
For a start, I’d need to be consistent.
I need to behave, myself, the way I’m telling my children to behave.
So, just like doing an ad, let’s go back and research the brief.
What’s wrong with swearing in the first place?
When do I do it, when don’t I do it?
If I understand that I’ve got a brief from which to communicate.
So I got the kids to sit on the couch with me.
I said I wanted to have a chat about swearing.
And I said, “Here’s what I know: Fuck, Cunt, Shit, Piss, Arsehole, Bastard, Turd, Prick.”
Then I thought for a minute, just to check I hadn’t missed any out.
And I said, “Yup, that’s about it: Fuck, Cunt, Shit, Piss, Arsehole, Bastard, Turd, Prick.”
The children were sitting there open-mouthed.
I said, “ Now they’re just words.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with them at all, they’re just words.
But what is wrong is bad manners.
What is wrong is making other people feel uncomfortable or bad, right?”
The children agreed, they were good kids.
They didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.
I said, “Okay, so some people will be hurt and embarrassed if you use those words in front of them, and some people won’t.
What we have to do is learn which is which.”
They both nodded.
I said, “So it’s fine if you want to use those words in front of me or my mates, we don’t mind.
But we’d never use them in front of your mum, or your grandmas, or your teachers, or anyone who would be embarrassed, right?”
They both nodded because it made sense.
I said, “So here’s the deal, before you swear you need to check that the other person doesn’t mind. If they say they don’t, then go ahead.
But if you think they might not like it, then don’t do it.”
A week or so later my kids came into the agency.
I was in one of the glass rooms talking to some of the guys.
My children came in, and my son said, “Do you mind if I swear?”
The guys looked at me and said, “Er, no, not really.”
My daughter said, “Well I do. So I’ll wait outside while you do it.”
So she went outside and shut the door and watched through the glass.
My son stood inside and swore a bit.
Then she opened the door and said, “Have you finished?” and came in.
Now that she knew she could swear, she no longer felt she had to swear.
Instead of just fighting against a set of rules, she understood how it worked.
Which meant she had control.
And not-swearing felt as empowering as swearing.
So how does that translate for us?
Well, we’re in the communication business.
My feelings about conversations with children are the same as my feelings about all the forms of communication we do.
If it’s the right thing to do we must be able to explain it.
If we can’t explain it maybe it isn’t the right thing to do.