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Please Help . . . What Should I Do About Swearing?

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 
I am beyond furious and at my wit's end. I need advice, please. My 14 yo ds has some pretty severe emotional, behavioral and mental problems. Until about a month ago, he was living in a residential juvenile rehab facility because of repeated crimes (assault and vandalism) committed in our home against us. He has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and I strongly suspect that there are other mental/emotional health issues that haven't been specifically diagnosed yet. We are working with a team of counselors, parole officers, a psychiatrist, etc. I know that these problems will take a long time to treat and to then teach him how to behave appropriately will also take a long time. I'm more than willing to put the time and effort into it. But I don't know what to do when his behavior spills over onto the younger siblings. I have a dd who's almost 7 and a ds nearly 3.

Yesterday (because he was mad at me) ds1 spent a great deal of time teaching ds2 to swear --- as in when I would speak to either of them 14 would say to 3, "Tell Mommy, shut the f*** up, b****." Which the little one can say with startlingly good diction.

I truly do not know what to do about it. Of course I made it clear to both of them that it was unacceptable. I took the little ones out of the house until bedtime to avoid further confrontation. But they worship him and he has a great deal of influence on them. As I'm typing this, the 3yo just walked up to his brother and said, "Hey, J, let's say b**** together" and then they both screamed it at me and the older one laughed and high-fived him.

Somebody please tell me what I should do. Of course, right now I'm going to sign off and go put the little one to bed -- it's only a couple minutes early and I can't take it.
post #2 of 15
I was a special ed teacher, and I worked with kids and teens with emotional and behavioral issues. Swearing just doesn't bother me, and compared to assault it's pretty minor. In this ase it seems to be a clear power play, meant to bug you, so if you can possibly not respond punitively it will take away a lot of the power. I would just ignore it, maybe say something about how nice it is that your son is spending time with his sibs, because IMO that's true - no matter what they're doing, they're building a relationship and that's important. You could even make it funny for the little one and defuse it even more - he calsl you a b*tch, you call him a pinka olka-dotted snarfleblatt. They're all just words...

If your daughter goes to school, I would point out to her that these words aren't appropriate for school , but in general I'd chose your battles, and considering your older son's history swearing doesn't seem like a big one...


post #3 of 15
Thread Starter 

Thanks, but . . .

I do appreciate the intent of your comments, but frankly they don't feel appropriate. If I'd written that my husband was telling me to "Shut the f*** up, b****!" everytime I spoke to him and was also teaching our child to say it to me, I don't think you'd tell me to make a joke of it or ignore it. Nor do I think it would be acceptable for the neighbor, the mail carrier or the person in the movie theater who wishes I wouldn't talk through the previews. Allowing my child to treat me with contempt and disrespect just because he has a history of worse doesn't make sense to me. They aren't "just" words. Nothing is "just" words. Words are very powerful and very important.
post #4 of 15
From a non-mom - take this for what it is worth.

Your oldest obviously has problems that need to be worked out. The younger sibs don't though, correct? I would take some time and pull the smaller children apart and talk to them. Tell them, individually, that hurts your feelings and talk about respect and so on. Because big bro is sort of a newcomer and kinda like the cool uncle you only see once in a while, I would guess they are mimicing him for the attention and that if you let them know it isn't cool, they will stop on their own. While they may be bonding, ultimately you are still mom and they value that relationship more than the one with the bad boy bro. If you can make clear to the younger kids that it isn't okay, I am guessing that they will stop playing along and eventually the older one will stop as well. NO fun if no rise from mom - you know? Which means that even if it hurts you, a withering stare will go a lot further than getting upset. He is trying to gain a power position as Dar said, and he WANTS you to get mad. Let him know you won't play. And if the younger kids continue, then let thier be consequences for their actions. (I stage managed for a kid theatre for a few years....I had several problem kids who would do much what you son is doing. the only thing that worked was talking to the ones who knew better, and acknowledging what the instigator did, but ultimately ignoring it.)

I am not sure where you are at with your 14yo in terms of disciplining him and meds and such - but all those things will play into it as well.

Good luck!! I know how hard it can be to feel that out of control of a situation. I hope it gets better.

edited to add:
Also, this is less about swearing and more about him challenging you and his behavior. Swearing is a means to an end, a symptom of a larger problem. You may want to talk to his therapists about it and your concerns. If he feels in control of the situation, he will fell comfortable assaulting you again and then you are back to square one. Also, are YOU seeing a therapist? Because you would probably benefit from it - there is a lot going on and a lot of emotional issues flying around your head....just a thought.
post #5 of 15
I've been through this as a camp counselor. The big kids were instigating some nasty swearing. One by one, we took the little kids aside and asked them what the words they were saying meant. They couldn't tell us and got embarrassed. We asked if they thought it was a good idea to use words they didn't understand. They stopped.

Later, some of them asked the big kids what the words meant. The teens weren't comfortable with trying to define the words, but some tried. A couple teens "succeeded" in explaining a few things. The little kids were disgusted and thought it was just stupid. A few tried the words a few times. We pulled them aside again. We asked the same thing. They told us what they had learned. We asked them if they thought what they were saying about us was true. They said "no". We asked if they thought those were nice things to say. They knew they weren't. We said, "So, how do you feel knowing that the big kids are trying to get you to lie about things and hurt other people's feelings?" Regardless of their ages, the little ones felt used and their infatuations with the teens soon subsided.
post #6 of 15
Originally posted by Dar
I would just ignore it, maybe say something about how nice it is that your son is spending time with his sibs, because IMO that's true - no matter what they're doing, they're building a relationship and that's important. You could even make it funny for the little one and defuse it even more - he calsl you a b*tch, you call him a pinka olka-dotted snarfleblatt. They're all just words...
i totally disagree! my goodness, a 14 yo teaching a 3 yo baby to swear at & disrespect his mother? that is not quality time, & they are not building a relationship imo. snugglemom. you are right to want to stop this behavior, i get upset when ds calls me stupidhead,: i can't imagine what you are feeling. i agree words ARE powerful & important.

sadly, i have no advice for you other than to put your son back into a facility to help him deal w/ his issues. this may not be "fair" to him, but it isn't really fair to your younger kids to grow up in that situation. they will grow up not respecting you & thinking it is fun & cool to curse at you, & when they are teens it will be worse than it is w/ your oldest.

hugs to you, mama. you are in a very difficult spot. let us know what you decide to do; we are all here to support you.

love, jenny

post #7 of 15
Clearly you'll all make your own decisions. OTOH, I'm actually a certified behavioral specialist, and that's the POV I'm coming from, so I hope it's okay if I clarify further...

This isn't your average teen - my advice would be different for that sort of kid - this is a kid who is adjusting to life on the outs, who is at a tenous place right now and needs (IMO) time to settle in. He probably already feels rejected, and feels badly about himself, and is feeling unsure about whether he can handle life outside, and whether you'll truly accept him, and the easiest way to handle that is to just make yourself as difficult to be around as possible so maybe you'll get sent away again, and then you won't have to wonder and worry...

I had kids come out of residential into my class, and they'd do this. In the beginning, I was careful to keep my expectations clear and minimal. Hurting yourself or others was not permitted. Damaging property was not permitted. The rest generally wouldn't get you any positive strokes, but you wouldn't get any negative attention for it, either - and a lot of these kids were stuck working for negative attention because they'd given up on getting positive attention.

Eventually the swering needs to stop, yes. And if you truly can't ignore it, then it probably does need to go on the "not permitted" list. It truly didn't bother me coming from these kids, maybe because I could understand the reasoning behind it.

FWIW, in a fairly short time my kids all stopped swearing, except under extreme stress, and eve then they didn't sweat at people anymore - and that's how and when I swear, anyway.

post #8 of 15
Maybe you should also post this in Gentle Discipline. I have no ideas for you, except that it sounds like you really need to go to therapy *with* your eldest. My mom and I did therapy for a long time and we now have a great relationship. She's actually a therapist herself now. To make a long story short, my mom wasn't the advocate that she should have been while I was growing up and I still hurt from that, but I am able to control my emotional response better, and she is able to express her emotions better now. I wasn't troubled in the same way as your son, but I don't think the parole officer is going to understand this the way an LCSW is. That's JMO.
Good luck,
post #9 of 15
Thread Starter 
Thank you everyone, for your thoughtful responses to this. Dar, I appreciate your clarifying your position. It makes sense, I'm just not sure I can do it because of how deeply it bothers me. For everyone who suggested counseling -- absolutely! When I said in the original post that we were working with a team of counselors, etc., that includes counseling for him individually and for us as a family. We know that dealing with this is a whole family issue.

Where I'm stuck, I guess, is that this swearing isn't just between him and me. If it were, I would have an easier time following Dar's advice. He's actively encouraging the younger siblings to do it. Now I've talked with dd (who will be 7 in June) and she understands, but she also wants to please her brother. That creates a discipline issue for the two of us, but I'm fairly confident in dealing with that. The 3 yo ds is just confused. The position I've taken for now is that young children are not permitted to be in the room with people who are talking that way, and I will remove them when/if it happens.

Our next family counseling session is Thursday and I will be bringing it up then.

Thank you to everyone for the support and thoughtful advice. And if anyone has more wisdom, I'd love to hear it.
post #10 of 15
I am so, so very sorry you are going through this! I cannot imagine how hard this must be for you.

I totally agree that him swearing when he stubs his toe is different than calling you a b**** when you won't let him smoke in the house (or whatever the issue is) and both those are totally different than what he is actually doing - teaching his little brother to swear at you then rewarding him for it.

That is just so out of bounds and he knows it. I know he is your child too but from an outsider's perspective, I just could not allow him to stay in the house if he is crossing those type of boundaries.

One of the basic rules in our house is you are respectful - you don't have to agree with me, you don't have to like the rules, we can calmly discuss it, but teaching a 3 year old to call his mother curse words then high fiving him for it - that is over the top IMO. He could get mad, walk out, slam doors, play his music loud, give you the silent treatment, etc. But we don't physically or verbally abuse each other - and that is what he is doing - verbally abusing both you and the 3 year old.

This will cause huge problems for the poor 3 year old when he goes to preschool and uses this language. He would not be welcome at my house for a playdate if he spoke like that - and it is not even his fault! He is just doing what he was taught and given positive reinforcement for (by older brother).

I am so glad you are all in counseling and I would definitely make this a priority there. Hate to give him the satisfaction of knowing it makes you nuts but he knows that anyway. IMO it is a cheap shot on his part. I understand he has issues but either they can be dealt with with medication and therapy or he has to be somewhere else to keep the younger ones safe. It is a heartbreaking spot to be in.

Again, so so sorry....
post #11 of 15

the cussing thing

Dear Snugglemom,
You seem to have two swearing problems. One, the ds, to whom it probably is either a carryover from what's done, if not acceptable, in a facility for troubled kids or 'magic words' (I say these words and the adults either forget the origininal issue or go entertainlingly ballistic).

The other is the behavior is spreading to young children.

I work with teens, and some do have definite problems with cussing. So I've starting letting the students earn a tangible award for keeping their language clean. It hasn't done as much as I'd hoped for my orginal frequent cussers (although there is some improvement) but it does contain the spread of the problem - it's more fun to get rewards than cuss. That may help supplement an honest discussion with the younger ones about why you don't want them cussing.

post #12 of 15

It may not help but

I made ds a swear box -he recently picked up a mouth ...
every time a word comes out a quarter goes in
when box is full he has to choose a charity to donate it to
post #13 of 15

An excellent and well-thought-out response. I agree with your approach. Verbal daggers thrown from afar lose their sharpness in a rational discussion.

post #14 of 15
I have a 15 year old son with bipolar disorder. I am a single mother and he has two half-brothers age 23 and 20. I believe that be being a VERY effective parent and homeschooling we were able to avoid the kind of problems that you are describing that are common for bipolar teens.

It is not too late to become a more effective parent. Read the books recommended by LLL. Go to a LLL state conference and hear parenting experts speak. Take parening courses. Buy parenting tapes.

Getting on the right medication can give you a different child. Do not be afraid of high doses of medications or combining medications. Psychopharmocology is much more effective for bipolar disorder than counseling. Unless you are lucky enough to get a great counselor, counseling may be of little benefit.

Don't swear yourself, ever. Try not to let your 'problem' child drain away all your energy and enjoyment.
post #15 of 15
Oh man, i hear you. My foster daughter is now 12 and behaves just like your son. (she currently lives in a group home)

What works well here is to refer to the swearing as a choice. "Interesting choice of words", I ususally say,and then let things be for a while.

Then he might want a ride to some activity. Well, you could always tell him calmly that rides are given by mom's, not by "f**c*nG B**t**s", so he will have to go ask Dad (who of course was already primed to say that he cannot give rides to someone who verbally trashed someone he loves, and expresses his wish that the boy will choose his words more carefully when adressing his mom the next day) Guaranteed that this is not going to go over well with him, but the reality is that when you treat people badly, they are not inclined to do you favors,and this is a truth he is better off learning at home in a supportive environment.
The key is to stay calm, not get upset and just let him experience the result of these actions. Also, I don't serve any sweet desserts to kids who use words that are definitely NOT sweet. If they choose more wisely the next day they can have some then.

Teaching these words to younger sibs is not an appropriate bonding activity. Maybe explain to these little guys that this is not the right way to adress people, and stress to them that big brothers choices hurt other people's feelings. The VERY first time you witness a young one resist saying the bad words, REWARD him for that GREAT choice! (A sweet treat or a small toy?) Teach the small ones that their right choice is beneficial to them.

Tough spot, mama. Hang in there!!
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