Ask a School Psychologist|
by Beth Bruno, Ed.M., M.A.
QUESTION: I have spoken with teachers and administrators about my objection to the foul, abusive language kids use in and around school and on the bus, but nobody can come up with an effective way to curb it. Bus drivers say that if they had to write up every student who swears, they would be driving empty buses. My son continues the bad language in defiance of me. He says he's just doing the same as the other kids do, so it's no big deal. Well, it is a big deal to me. What do you think?
ANSWER: In my opinion, the use of obscene language has reached epidemic proportions in this country ... and not just among the young. Furthermore, social awareness and embarrassment about it seem to be diminishing, too.
For example, I recently walked past two groups of students as I entered my daughter's high school. One of the students recognized me and waved. Yet the proximity of an adult had no apparent impact on their choice of words; they continued their nonchalant chatter, peppering their sentences with words that would have turned my face beet red at their age. I would never have used such language under any circumstances, let alone within earshot of an adult.
Another time I stopped off at the high school to watch a track meet. Spectators occupied small, portable bleachers between the practice fields and the track. Again I was struck dumb by the language I heard coming from the fields behind me. Only this time it wasn't student chatter; it was a football coach shouting obscenities and insults at his players during practice drills. He showed no restraint whatsoever in the presence of the public. By example, he was teaching his athletes that cursing is appropriate under those (and other) circumstances.
We're all accosted with obscenities at movie theaters, even when watching movies rated "G" for the general public. Scriptwriters supposedly create realism when their characters talk trash. To my ears such dialogue speaks to a writer's ignorance and laziness more than to efforts to portray memorable characters or absorbing scenes. Language contains such a variety of choices, fascinating nuances and power. Why take mindless shortcuts that not only offend social decorum, but also human intelligence?
Along with our responsibility to teach children to use language clearly and accurately comes the responsibility to teach them about social context. We spent a considerable amount of time in our household teaching our children the differences between standard English and slang, informality and trash. They, in turn, as only children can, reminded us of the rules, every chance they got. Nary a "hell" or "damn" escaped our lips that didn't cost us. "That'll be 50 cents!" (Just a pretend penalty, but enough of a reminder to us to be more careful).
You state that your son continues to defy your rule against the use of foul language at home. No matter what children in the neighborhood or at school are saying and doing, house rules are house rules. You, as the parent, are in charge of holding your children accountable for following them. In the process, be sure that you eliminate unacceptable words from your speech, as well. Don't let the language you use brand you a hypocrite rather than a role model.
How do the teachers reading this handle student obscenity in the classroom?
with Beth Bruno on the topic "Foul Mouths" Oct. 25, 9pmE in the Teachers.Net Meeting Room!
Beth Bruno email@example.com
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