Does Cursing in Front of Your Baby Do Any Real Damage?

Does Cursing in Front of Your Baby Do Any Real Damage?

Oh s**t, what have I done?

By Marianne Garvey

It’s a completely divided topic — some parents say f**k it, you can curse (without violence or anger) in front of your baby with no consequences. Others? No way, they say, your baby is listening to you at 34 weeks in the womb before they are even born.

“Some say that baby will recognize songs mom sings while he’s in the womb, and may even be more easily soothed by them if he’s used to them once he’s on the ‘outside,’” reports Slate.

Overall, the massive research on the topic is inconclusive.

Annie Murphy Paul, the author of Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives, tells Slate that “newborns can recognize their mother’s voices at birth, and they can even recognize stories and songs if they heard them repeatedly before they were born.” But she also says babies cannot “discriminate among curse words or other words.”

What they do respond to is stress. “There’s a big difference between cursing around your kid and cursing at your kid,” the report says.

According to The Los Angeles Times, you shouldn’t sweat it if you “drop an f-bomb in front of your kid.”

Benjamin Bergen, professor of cognitive science at UC San Diego, and author of What the F: What Swearing Reveals About our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves, “the only profane words that demonstrably cause trouble are slurs.”

“Slurs may have similar or greater effects in children, who are less developed socially and cognitively. Indeed, correlational studies suggest as much…There’s no [scientific] proof that exposure to ordinary profanity — four-letter words — causes any sort of direct harm: no increased aggression, stunted vocabulary, numbed emotions or anything else.”

He came up with his own solution:

“I don't censor myself because I know my child won't suffer cognitive or emotional damage; and I don't try to stop him from parroting me, in large part because I'm not delusional enough to think that would work. But when I happen to swear around my kid, I provide some coaching. I engage him in an honest dialogue about why some words are OK in some places, but not others. Even a two-year-old can understand that the f-word can be muttered consequence-free at home but might lead to a negative reaction when screamed in the supermarket.”

There are two main reasons parents hold back on swear words, that the kid will turn out to have anger issues, or the kid will turn around and use it.

“And yet the largest observational study — again we don't have controlled experiments — found that childhood swearing is largely innocuous. Scientists documented children ages one to 12 naturally producing thousands of taboo utterances, and only rarely witnessed negative repercussions,” Bergen says. “On no occasion did swearing lead to physical violence. Instead, taboo words were used mostly for positive reasons, for instance humor, and mostly were not produced out of anger.”

Which is the root of the question many parents had on a baby blog. Can we safely listen to Howard Stern while a baby is in the room? Again, it’s “happy” and “humorous” cursing, but are they absorbing the words?

“When do husband and I stop listening to Howard Stern on the radio? I know little one is a sponge and is absorbing everything around him, but I don't want to stop listening to certain radio programs or watch certain shows on TV in front of [little one]. We don't watch porn or anything like that (period), but Howard Stern sometimes is raunchy and swears…I guess we shouldn't be exposing [little one] to those things now??? Anyone else?” one mom asked.

The commenters were split down the middle.

“I quit listening to my more raunchy CD's and music as soon as my kids were born. I still have it in my car for those rare occasions where I get to drive solo.”

“We do not listen to radio while in the car with baby. I have a folder on the iPod with kid friendly songs, some are pop songs sung by kids and slightly re-worded to be more appropriate, veggies tales. Other are regular songs like 'Life is a Highway' (that one stands out), the songs we sing in music class and Contemporary Christian music. I really think what goes in comes out.”

“I would stop it now. They pay more attention than we realize…”

“I love Howard Stern, but I definitely would not let lo listen to it while driving. I usually pop in kid-friendly music for the car or no radio at all. Most of the time I am usually talking to him.”

“It’s time to stop now. Language skills are developing rapidly right now…Children who are exposed to this are the ones who start kindergarten with a whole string of curse words that they then teach the rest of the class. Really don't want to be that parent do you?”

“I love Howard, but I prefer to listen to music in the morning. My parents never listened to Howard, but they did listen to a morning zoo type radio show where they talked about boobs and sex and whatever and I managed to turn out fine. I never went to school and asked someone what a blow job was or anything like that, and I remember that discussion on the radio in the morning. I don't really think I was sheltered as a child and I don't think I'm going to worry about it too much. I'm not going to seek it out, but I'm not going to freak out if she overhears something.”

“I love Howard too. My [little one] is hardly in the car with me, so it's not really that much of a concern. But if I notice cussing a lot, I just change the station to music.”

“My best friends daughter (2 year old at the time) would run to the beer aisle every time they went to the grocery store and scream "here's daddy’s drinks." My best friend was mortified. But I'm sure its because her husband would talk about beer so often at home and because the child saw the father drinking it so often.”

Some states have laws against swearing in front of your kids—in 2014 one South Carolina mom was arrested for telling her husband to stop smashing the “f**king” bread in a supermarket while her children were present. A fellow shopper called the police and mom ended up in cuffs.

According to Psychology Today, it's what's behind the swearing that matters. 

"A well-aimed swear word has been the instigator of many fights. But the question remains: Does hearing swear words in a movie or TV show or on the playground harm children?

"Surprisingly, there has been little research on this question. In all likelihood it isn’t swearing itself that is harmful (the article’s authors state that they have recorded 10,000 instances of swearing and rarely seen direct harm), but the factors associated with swearing.

"It is important to note that when it comes to swearing context matters. The same swear word can be used as an insult, an exclamation of surprise, or as an expression of pleasure when in the throes of passion."

So, in conclusion, who the f**k knows? But it seems as long as it's coming from a place of good energy, or humor, curse words won't do much damage on a baby brain. 

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