I love language. I teach it all day, and I am a glorified “word nerd” to be sure. I am interested in words, but I also respect them as the very bones of language and as a means to connect humans to each other. However, sometimes these symbols put together to create meaning can be used to divide us. In my home and in my classroom, I try to explain to kids that we cannot control how we feel, but we can certainly control our words and our actions. I try to reinforce proper communication at home and in the classroom, so that children can be fearless but respectful when communicating. As an educator and a mother, I do not always succeed, and I am not a shining example of perfection. All I can do is explain my reasoning to my kids, and try to practice what I preach. I am lucky that I live in a neighborhood with like-minded parents, who let me know if my angels fall from grace. Having our choices supported in so many places really helps keep our kids on track for the future. It helps us reinforce our message if fellow parents remind them to speak respectfully; it reminds me of my small town that raised me. Even as an adult now, I’ll never forget when I was busted for misusing language.
Like all areas of my life, I learn by mistake. I can remember very clearly trying out my best swear words as I trudged home from elementary school with my friends and sister. Obviously, when you try words this powerful on for size, you don’t do so quietly. I remember spitting every single one of the “big three” from which we were always told to abstain. It felt like freedom to my third grade self. We stopped early enough so as not to be heard around our house. However, when my sister and I opened the door to our home, I could tell my mom wasn’t happy. She asked us, “Do you want to tell me what you did on the way home from school today?” We were panicked. We thought about all the things we could have done, but like the wizard we knew she was, my mom magically knew about the swearing. Ahhh, small towns. In that moment, she explained to us that we were representing our family and ourselves. That neighbors who once thought us to be respectful people, would now question our motives and intentions based on the language they heard spewed from our mouths. It was the first time that it ever occurred to me that language is a responsibility.
Words the Make Us Cringe
Kelly mentioned that “shut up” and “hate” were banned from her house. We dislike those as well for the same reasons, but two other words that make my skin crawl when used in a derogatory fashion are “loser” and “gay”. I believe I’ve only heard these two words used inappropriately twice in my house, but they birthed extensive conversations about the hurt people can bring onto each other. In addition to my home, my high schoolers are pretty great, but sometimes they’ll have a lack in judgement, and we have to talk about the damage they can do with words such as these. It is my hope that by banning these two words used to hurt others, my kids and students will go out of their way to stop their friends from doing so also.
Okay, I’m an English teacher. It’s something I can’t just turn off at night, so my poor kids have to bear the brunt of my frustration if they speak improperly. If I really get down to it, it’s actually my parents’ fault. They made sure that we (my sister and I) spoke properly at all times, making it second nature for us to do so. Having this basic grammar knowledge at home and at school made life so much easier for me. I try to make sure my children speak correctly, and my middle one is actually the most unforgiving of the bunch. He scoffs at commercials and billboards that make errors his teacher tells him to correct in his own work. Although I want them to use intelligent language most times, I do try to balance it with the knowledge that we never correct our friends and our family when the “ain’t’s” fly or when a double negative is uttered, but just as the kids of financial advisors should be pretty great with money, my kids should be able to speak appropriately.
Tone and Audience
More than the actual words used by my children and students, I try to impose on them what my mom did all those years ago. If a student doesn’t see me in the hallway and utters a swear word; if one of my children falls from grace and uses one of our “no” words to hurt others; I remind them that they are representing themselves and their family when they speak. I love the Tim McGraw song Live Like You Were Dying for this very purpose. There’s a part in the song that says, “I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter, and I gave forgiveness I’d been denying.” I try to use that with the kids in my life. What if they spoke sweeter? Wouldn’t that be a great way to represent themselves? With my high school students especially, I try to set up a similar scenario. I tell them that because I am their teacher, I know how amazing they are, but if someone walked by, and the only words they heard were harsh or egregious in nature, that is the kind of person this observer will always assume they are. It’s not fair, but it’s true. I remind them that they are representing themselves, and what they put out into the universe is, many times, what they will get back.
Although my husband and I are not saints in this category, writing about it reminds me to practice what I preach and work to speak sweetly.
What words drive you crazy? How do you handle it when your children utter your cringe-worthy words? Let us know on our Facebook, Twitter, or the Blog.