Does Cursing At Your Kids Toughen Them Up?

By Erickka Sy Savané

“Shut up before I bust you in the f*cking mouth!”
I turn around to see Peaches, cursing out her pre-K son. It’s crazy because, unlike the moms that I hear from two blocks away from the school, mouths running like Usain Bolt, Peaches is usually pretty quiet. The little boy holds his head down as she continues her tirade.
“Come on,” I say, grabbing my daughter’s five-year-old hand.
"Why’s that lady so mad?”
“I don’t know. Sometimes mommies get mad,” I tell her.
"Well, she was real mad!" she responds.

Like seeing road kill, thoughts of Peaches going ham on her kid leave me unsettled, and I can’t stop thinking about how damaging it must be to the little boy’s psyche. It reminds me of a few months ago when I was having a play date with another mom here in Jersey City, and after trying unsuccessfully to get her seven-year-old daughter to listen, the mom said, “You lucky I don’t bust you in the mouth!” My ears did a little twitch, which she must have noticed because she laughed it off, “I just say that to get her attention.”

It’s kinda interesting though, that two moms from the neighborhood are both cursing at their kids. Am I missing something?

I do my best to shelter my kids from the four-letter words that I grew up with. The ones my Granny used so liberally to pepper her conversation. I also monitor what they watches on TV. But it seems as soon as I walk out the door, someone is dropping f-bombs. Most times, it’s kids. Especially, the teens. And it makes me wonder if perhaps I'm out-of-touch with what’s going on today. Is this way of sheltering them from such language even good for them? Am I bringing them up to be soft and incapable of dealing with the world’s sharp edges?

Just the other day, I was speaking to the friend from the playdate, and she was telling me how she’s teaching her daughter a “black code” (aka a way of interacting with the police that won’t get her killed). She’s teaching her to say, “Yes, officer, no, officer, what can I do for you today, officer?” She says it’s a conversation that she wanted to have with her when she was older, but it’s more important to have it now, when she can point to the TV and use all the police killings as an example.

GoodGodAlmighty! It seems like a lot to put in her young head! I ask if it’s even realistic that her 7 year-old daughter will get stopped by the police? She looks at me like I'm the one who’s crazy.

“With what’s going on in this country right now, anything could happen to any of us.”

Actually, growing up, my mom taught me and my brother a code of conduct with the police too: Always be respectful and don’t reach for anything. But I got away from it, thinking that it was a way of being that served a prior generation. But today, things feel worse.

I call my best friend Lee to see if he thinks I'm raising marshmallows. He’s from Newark and has a huge family of sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews who are doing well. "Do these cursing moms have the right idea?" I ask him.

He says, though his mom could get sharp-tongued with him growing up, she always caught herself before blacking out. But language like that was common. “That’s just how we talk, but it’s not just us, it’s Spanish, Italian…I don’t think they really mean they’re going to bust them in the mouth,” he says. On whether he thinks there’s any benefit to cursing at kids, he says, “Only if you believe in toughening them up for the streets. But it's your job to set them up for something better.”

The next day, when dropping my daughter off to school, I end up talking to her teachers. They say they hear parents swearing at kids all the time and it poses a real problem for them because the kids don’t know how to listen when they’re speaking to them in a regular voice.

I think about the times when my kids haven’t been listening and even “Good morning!!!” comes out with three exclamation points. The reason I pull back to a normal tone isn’t always because they’re listening, it’s because I don’t want screaming to become the only thing they respond to. Like those kids that think “lil’ n*gga” is actually their name.

I won’t knock these moms for their choices, to each her own. But going down that path is not for me. Should I feel the need to toughen my daughter up, which isn’t a bad idea, I’ll get her into karate.

This article appeared on

Do you believe in cursing at kids?

Erickka Sy Savané is managing editor of, a wife, mom, and freelance writer based in Jersey, City, NJ. Her work has appeared in,,, and more. When she’s not writing...wait, she’s always writing! Follow her on Twitter, Instagram or

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