The girls love music, and learned some time ago that song lyrics were available in apps like Apple Music. Fun right? Now, we can listen to whatever songs we want AND sing along.
Just take a moment and remember when you would sing along like this:
It’s gonna take a lot to get my Waze voice too…
There’s nothing that a million ten or more would never do…
I guess the rains down in Africa…
Gonna take my time to do the things we never made…“Africa(ish)” by Toto
Turns out I was singing the wrong lyrics forever. Now, the girls just use our phones and follow along. This is how I discovered an issue with Apple Music that may or may not have opened the door to a bit of a problem. As an example, I’ll use the song “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor.
For fun, I just looked it up in Apple Music. Is it marked as explicit? No way. Cool. Press play. Do you hear any swears? Not a chance.
Let’s read along as Meghan sings:
And all the right junk in all the right places
I see the magazines working that Photoshop
We know that SHIT ain’t real
Come on now, make it stop…
Julianna says, “Dad, why did she say ‘stuff’ but the words say ‘shit’? What does ‘shit’ mean?”
And that’s where I believe it started (or it was some kid on the bus).
We had a choice to make and I didn’t know what other parents did in this case. There are different approaches we could take when it comes to “word management.”
My wife and I have always taken a “lean in” type approach when it comes to any sort of conversation and we’ve done the best we could to stay consistent. Let’s not shy away from any conversation that the girls want to talk about. Given how inquisitive kids can be, we wanted to always provide a “safe” place to ask questions and learn.
Now, we aren’t some sort of bohemian or lawless household, not that there’s anything wrong with that, where anything anyone wants to talk about is, by rule, always open. There are always exceptions. For instance, I give you Laurel vs Yanny. Everyone knows it is Yanny. It just isn’t worth a conversation. Let’s just agree I’m right.
So, “what does shit mean?”
I’ve heard people talk about wanting their kids to take a sip of a beer with their parents. We all “know” our kids are likely going to try alcohol at some point. Why not do it within the confines of your home with supervision and then be able to discuss it?
We figured words can be the same thing. Let’s just talk about how there are words that are not appropriate and we shouldn’t use them but, the reality is that we will likely hear these words and we shouldn’t be afraid of them.
We have rules. We told the girls that if they ever had questions about what a word meant or how it was used or why it was used or when it was used, they should just ask. We talked to them about how other people, hopefully only grownups but maybe even kids in school, might use these words around them but that didn’t mean we are allowed to use them.
The internet, sex, puberty, swears. The “appropriateness bubble” my wife and I have worked so hard to keep Julianna and Chloe in, safe from reality, is expanding as they get older. This bubble will eventually burst but hopefully not until the time when they want to start building their own bubble for their own kids.
So…we start the conversation:
I say, “Shit can be a noun or a verb (#teachablemoment). It is another word for ‘poop’ and works the same way. You need to poop or you just made a poop. See?”
There. We’re finished right?
Julianna says, “what does ‘fuck’ mean?”
I suppose I’m glad she feels this comfortable. I know when it comes to the other big things, she’ll feel comfortable coming to talk to us. This is a good thing right?
Here’s one of those exceptions. I’m not going to explain the actual meaning of “fuck” to the girls. We are not there yet. Instead, I describe that it is an exclamatory word or an interjection; like this:
And so we had our healthy conversation about these words and made the rules clear. They don’t use them outside the house (at least not when we’re around) and they seem to understand the power of these words and that they aren’t necessary to communicate what they want to communicate. They understand that these words are not to be used with anyone other than my wife and I, and they really aren’t to be used at all. These words, like passwords to your computer or the code to the home security system are not to be shared. They understand these types of words can even be funny sometimes.
When we are out in public and they hear someone swear, they will give us a look of acknowledgment, maybe even smile, and then on with the show.
What I noticed recently, though, and find interesting, is MY reaction. It is likely unavoidable, while you’re with your kids in public, that someone nearby might swear. It may or may not be intentional. They may or may not know there are kids nearby. I’ve found that most people try to not swear when they know kids are in close proximity. I also swear from time to time but my time as a camp counselor and camp director trained me to choose the words that come out of my mouth very carefully. Slip-ups happen.
When we were out in public and I would hear someone swear, or when we’re watching a movie that we think is “safe” and some character swears, I used to jump in and [cough cough] at the right time or try and distract the kids or do something to “not draw attention” – which in retrospect probably drew more attention. Now, those moments happen and I know the girls aren’t shocked.
I’m confident they know that words are powerful and meaningful. I also know we have many more words to discuss.
I don’t blame Meghan Trainor or Apple Music for exposing my kids to swears. I don’t blame other kids at school. I don’t blame anyone. These words are just another opportunity to teach our kids a right way and a wrong way. They were going to hear them, and learn about them at some point anyway.
We could have pretended the words didn’t exist or even just said something like, “that is a bad word and you should never use it.” A lot of people go that route and I neither judge nor disagree with that type of approach.
I feel like they get it. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe we made the wrong choice. Who knows?
I sure as fuck don’t.