My friend Wishy and I had a good laugh one day when we discovered that a classmate of our daughters was teaching the other children “bad words” by not actually saying the word itself, but by saying it backwards. Wishy’s daughter said to her in hushed tones: “Mom, did you know that “tish” spelled backwards is a bad word?” Further parental inquiry revealed that she knew that “cuff” spelled backwards was bad too.
A recent NPR piece entitled Why Kids Curse, brought this rather amusing memory back to me. Although we wish our children would never learn the “bad words,” it does inevitably happen. Unfortunately when it happens, is commonly sooner rather than later. Many parents seem to have a funny or embarrassing story of a precocious child and inappropriate language. Of course children might pick up bad language at home, but often it is from schoolmates or friends.
The NPR piece relates the funny tale of Yale psychologist Paul Bloom, whose 6 year-old announced one day the words that he had “learned” from overhearing the babysitter on the phone. He and his wife then decided to create an experiment in which they would invent some family swear words to see if their kids picked them up:
“So one of them was ‘flep,'” says Bloom. Whenever someone would bang their foot or hurt their toe, they’d scream “flep” as if it were an obscenity.
The experiment was very short-lived.
“It was a total failure,” says Bloom. “The children looked at us as if we were crazy.”
The reason for this failure? Kids are more influenced by their peers than their parents, according to Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker.
As I am interested in both parenting and linguistics, I found this story to be fascinating from both standpoints. There is more to the piece than what I mention here, so I encourage you to give it a read or a listen if you have a few minutes to spare.
And what on Earth does all this have to do with TV? Well, read on:
A study by the Parents Television Council found that about once an hour children watching popular children’s networks will hear mild curse words such as “stupid,” “loser” and “butt.” The scope and frequency can rise immeasurably with exposure to adult programs and popular music.
That’s the connection!
Link: Why Kids Curse – transcript and audio link (7:07)
(Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)