I’ve sometimes wondered about the profanity-laced conversations teens are having these days. Where is it coming from? Yes, I know that teens have always been tempted to add a little swagger to their social presence with a shocking word or two. But why has it become so much more socially acceptable to youth? Could it be their role models? A study of adolescent bestsellers revealed that there were 38 swear words on average in the 40 top-selling adolescent novels. This includes words coming out of the mouths of the some of the most popular characters in the Twilight and Harry Potter novels. The article revealing this states: “While bad language has been studied in film and on TV extensively this is the first to document its use in books aged at teens – which unlike over media have no content warning or age restriction.” It also points out that “From a social learning standpoint, this is really important because adolescents are more likely to imitate media characters portrayed in positive, desirable ways.”
The recommendation? “Parents should talk with their children about the books they are reading.”
Over the years, I have noticed the freedom with which teens seem to use bad language. But what’s happening on Facebook, Twitter and texting has gone way over some very serious lines that our generation would never have tolerated if said in person. Young people are using words like “retard” or “fag” or the “n” word with shocking frequency. According to an article I read, teens find it acceptable to use such derogatory slurs because “people are just trying to be funny or cool” or “people know we don’t mean it.” I don’t know about you, but I was raised by a Dad who would not tolerate racist or demeaning language, and he would challenge anyone–visitors to our home, friends, ANYONE—if they used such words. I have followed in his footsteps.
If your teen is throwing around these words under the impression that it’s how everyone talks, perhaps it’s time for a lesson in civility. And yes, you have the right to see what they are saying on Facebook, Twitter or their phones; if they are using offensive language, a period of time without internet or phone privileges might be very instructive.
I had heard about “Skins,” a new hit teen show (MTV, Monday night at 9 p.m) that had been accused of bordering on pornographic, and decided to watch it the other night. Your teen may argue that it shows “real” life. My take on it? That may be true IF you take the most ethically challenged, dysfunctional teen behavior, compact it into about 45 minutes, and don’t include a single character who deviates from the moral abyss these teens live in. These high schoolers’ lives revolve around constant sex (gay, bi and heteresexual), drugs, drinking, other risky behaviors, and bad language. So far, there has been rear nudity, but no frontal, and unlike in Britain (where the show originated), the swearing is bleeped out. The adult characters (at least in the episode I watched) are irresponsible buffoons . As I watched, I was filled with sadness at this picture of empty, lost and depressed teens. Life can be SO much better. Even the friendships–some of which are represented as deep–revolve around selfish hedonism. A real friend cares about what happens to you, and would caution against many of the foolish behaviors that are normalized in this show.
I see little worthwhile in this show. If you haven’t drawn the line on TV viewing yet, “Skins” may be a good place to start. To read more, including episode synopses, see this article by Parents Television Council.
A teacher recently told me how appalled she was at the language she’d heard a student use in the school parking lot toward his mother. Yep…it was the “F” word. And mom didn’t say a thing, but took it.
Many of us have noticed an increased tolerance among young people for foul language. What isn’t clear is what role media may play in the increased use of crude language in everyday society. Is it that media is following a trend already in existence in society, or is media leading the way? What IS clear is that there has been a dramatic increase in crude language and swearing in the media. A study showed, among other things, that the use of the muted or bleeped “F” word increase 2,409% from 2005 to 2010! Other finding were that crude anatomical references doubled or tripled (depending on the word).
You might want to encourage your child to take take a stand (and maybe increase his or her intelligence a few IQ points at the same time) by NOT resorting to cussing. A boy started a No Cussing Club at his middle school in 2007, and has seen the idea spread throughout the world. He’s even been on Jay Leno! Why not forward a link to the club’s website to your teen? It might start on interesting conversation about the kind of language your child has been hearing among his or her peers.