In Public: Strong Language
A few years ago, I attended a Blue Jays’ game with my dad. Baseball fans in Toronto are an eclectic bunch and the SkyDome (never the Rogers Centre, NEVER!) is no stranger to colourful language.
We were sitting next to a vocal couple of guys. F-bombs weren’t exactly raining from the sky, but they were definitely being dropped like popcorn on its way from the bag to the mouth of a careless snacker. My dad’s a conservative man, and that didn’t jive with him. He (politely) asked our neighbours to keep the profanity to a minimum. They (politely) did so. No hard feelings. Everyone enjoyed the game.
Boring story, I know. But it got me thinking about what I'll do in public with my children when people are using strong language. Language that I don’t want her using.
I’ll make something clear before I explore this subject. I’m not my father. I’m not offended by strong language (notice I never call it “bad” language). I consider words as tools (they’re the tools of my trade, after all), and each tool has its purpose. The F-word is like a sledgehammer—it makes a big impact. But you don’t want to use a sledgehammer when you’re hanging a picture on the wall. Some people, sometimes, need to use a strong word or two to drive home a point. Harsher words can express a deeper feeling, or shake up expectations and capture attention. They’re tools, and when used sparingly, they’re effective.
A child (I hope) has little need for a sledgehammer.
I’m not a confrontational person. Even my dad’s polite request triggered an anxiety response in me. So it left me wondering what I’m going to do when people use strong language around my child in public. I doubt I’d take it upon myself to tell strangers not to use certain words in public places.
At some point, my daughter will be old enough to understand the tool analogy. Until then, I know she’ll be exposed to strong language, and will likely repeat it. Which means I’ll need to tell her not to use certain words. I’m OK with that. As much as I don’t attach specific moral significance to what words we use, it’s important to me that my child is respectful of the tools she has. Just as I’ll teach her to respect the power and danger involved when you use a sledgehammer (you could do serious harm to yourself or someone else), I’ll teach her to respect strong language.
A toddler doesn’t understand why he’s not allowed near the stove when you’re frying bacon. (Have you ever been nailed in eye with weaponized projectile grease globule?) He doesn’t need to understand the "why" in that case. With time he’ll grasp those concepts and learn how to be responsible in the kitchen. When I set limits on language, I’m not expecting my daughter to live within those limits forever. I’m expecting her to mature understanding the power of the words we use, and use that power responsibly.