Talk to your children about swearing, urges sweary scientist

Parents should talk to their children about swearing rather than pretend it does not happen, according to a leading scientist.

Friday, 8th June 2018, 5:25 pm
Updated Tuesday, 19th June 2018, 11:29 am
Swearing is good for you

Parents should talk to their children about swearing rather than pretend it does not happen, according to a leading scientist.

Dr Emma Byrne, who is known as the Sweary Scientist after writing the book Swearing Is Good for You, said that parents who took a hard line on their children swearing would find in the long-run that their children swore more.

She likened the approach to that of studies that have shown that abstinence-only sex education programmes do not reduce the rates of teenage pregnancy.

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"We should talk to children about swearing," Dr Byrne said.

"If they come home and say, 'That Samantha is a f****** bitch and she won't let me come to her f****** party' and you say 'I never want to hear that language out of your mouth again' they are going to go, 'You don't give a shit about how I feel'.

"If they hear you swear in traffic and you say, 'I never ever... don't use that language', they are going to go, 'mum's a massive shitting hypocrite'."

Dr Byrne, who was speaking at the Cheltenham Science Festival about swearing, said studies had examined adult responses to children swearing.

"They found that those families that say, 'You must not swear' and particularly those that threaten physical chastisement, their kids are the ones that swear the most when they are among their friends because it is the opportunity to let off all this emotional content they cannot do at home," she said.

"What the research shows is that by saying to your kids, 'I am not going to talk about this, but I am going to ignore the feelings that led you swear in the first place', you get kids who don't think you take their feelings seriously and you end with them getting their mates to teach them to swear."

Dr Byrne said that it did not mean parents should sit their children down with a copy of Roger's Profanisaurus.

"Everybody's kids are different, and everybody's parenting styles are different, but you do your kids no favours by saying that it just doesn't exist, and we don't talk about that," she said.

"It's about as useful as the 'Just say no' approach to sex education and abstinence-only sex education, because it doesn't stop people getting pregnant.

"I am just going to bore my daughter with science about swearing until the point she insists in not doing it because she's terrified of getting another lecture.

"An English teacher once told me that it is a real impediment to her that parents say you cannot talk about swearing with these kids because there are really important moments in literature where language is used in a strong way because that is the way that people would speak.

"There are some people who are going to believe I am a terrible parent.

"But being data driven I know that just saying we are not going to talk about swearing at all just isn't going to work."

Dr Byrne said studies had shown that the power of swearing could be measured in an increased heart rate and reduction in pain.

"There is a test where you can keep your hand in iced water usually for half as long again if you are swearing than if you not," she said.

"If you wire people up to skin response monitors or heart rate monitors you can see there is a very different emotional state when they are swearing."