Q&A: When kids are exposed to offensive languageWritten by Wendy Kittlitz
Question: We have just moved to a new community and my children have had to transfer from the small Christian school they used to attend to a new public elementary school. My 6-year-old and 8-year-old are hearing language they have never heard before (some I’ve rarely heard, in fact)! How do I address this?
When your children are likely to hear things you’d rather they did not, you might be best to prepare them yourself as soon as possible. You might want to start with some solid Scriptural teaching on the power of words, with verses such as:
"For 'Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit' " (1 Peter 3:10 ESV)
"And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body." (James 3:2b ESV)
"You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain." (Deuteronomy 5:11 ESV)
As a family, you could start by memorizing these verses and talking about what they might mean in each of your daily life settings.
Respecting God and others
Then talk about how some people use God’s name carelessly, disrespectfully or even in vulgar ways. Impress on your children that when people love God, as your family does, they don’t want to speak in those ways or listen to those who do. You can encourage them to ask their peers not to say those words while they are around because they respect God.
You can also talk about other words and how some people will use those words in mean and/or careless ways. Often, they are crude terms for things that have proper words or they may simply be rude ways of speaking. Ask if your children if they have heard words that they do not understand or that make them uncomfortable. Address specific examples they may raise. Many of these are examples of lies (people referring to something God created as precious, such as sex, in derogatory ways). So talk about what is true and good and right,and about the importance of using respectful terms for people and things.
Finally, sometimes it is a hard but necessary reality to acquaint your child with something before they encounter it publicly. An example of this in my own family was teaching my children about the "n-word."
We are a transracial family and I did not want my girls (either my Caucasian bio-daughter or my Haitian adopted daughter) to learn this term on the playground, so I explained to them that historically people have used this word to refer to black people and the word was/is used in ugly and mean ways. I wanted them to know that if they heard someone use it, they should let a parent or teacher know as well as tell the person that it is not an appropriate word to use. Racism and the language that comes with it is not okay in our family!
You can apply this same principle with any type of language you find objectionable. Teach your children to speak kindly, respectfully and reverently, especially in relation to God. Finally, make very sure that you model this as well. The surest way to undermine your teaching is for your children to hear inappropriate language coming from you!
Wendy Kittlitz is vice-president of counselling and care ministries at Focus on the Family Canada.
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