Youth Culture Window

Watch Your *#%~@& Mouth!

Have you noted to yourself that LOTS of today’s teens need their mouths washed out with soap? Well, you’re right; across the nation, young people are using more (and harsher) profanity than ever before. I wonder where they’re learning this bleepin’ habit…

If you’ve walked past a group of teens conversing in the mall, or strolled by a crowd huddled together at a movie theater, you’ve no doubt heard a few expletives that make you think even less of this generation. Vulgarity is also rampant at school. (Perhaps one of the reasons for this is what we talked about in this recent article.)

According to studies underway by Dr. Timothy Jay, a leading researcher in “cussing,” adolescents and even preteens seem to be using foul language at an increased rate these days. Conversational or “casual” swearing that happens in hallways and cafeterias are mere “fillers” in the dialogue of today’s teens. He estimates that teens swear 80 to 90 times each day. Other findings reveal:

  • 75% of high school students report hearing “adult language” in school settings.
  • 74% of 18-34 year olds admit to swearing in public.
  • Elementary school teachers report children are using more offensive language at school than they have in the past.

Don’t think this is just a “guy thing” either. The latest findings show that girls use profanity almost as often as boys. Unfortunately for the ladies, there appears to be a double standard in place. Females who swear are often viewed as someone with “low morals,” as opposed to guys who can generate positive responses – even reverence – by cussing.

Crude language is not just restricted to verbal communication, either. The Statistical Cybermetrics Research Group found that online swearing is also high. A study of 40,000 youth MySpace accounts reported that swearing was “frequent,” especially in the comments sections of the page (the portion of the page where users can chat with “friends”). 9 out of 10 youth’s MySpace accounts had “some form of swearing,” while 1 in 3 contained “strong swearing.”

So, where’s this filth coming from? The Parents Television Council points the finger at media. According to their latest findings, cursing on TV has risen 78% in recent years. (Ahhhhh…there is nothing quite like blaming Jerry Springer for our moral decay.) Media is one of the bad guys, but it’s not the leading influence on teen’s dirty lingo. Unfortunately, it’s parents.

A survey released by American Demographics reports that 72% of men and 55% of women admit to swearing in public. Of the teens surveyed, 28% said they heard their parents cursing a few times each week, or on a daily basis. Dr. Timothy Jay concurred with these findings. “Cussing is a natural behavior learned from family members.”

While youthful swearing certainly offends many older adults, the consequences of their foul language are not limited to just getting a bad reputation. Profanity may be limiting teens’ ability to articulate themselves. P.M. Forni, author of “Choosing Civility” says, “Profanities are the fillers. They take the place of a more sophisticated way of speaking.”

So, what do we do about this problem? Is a bar of soap really the answer? Does the “swear jar” really work? According to Jay’s research, the answer is no. From a study he conducted in 2006, 94% of people who reported being punished for cussing continue to swear.

So, how can responsible youth workers help teenagers tame their tongue?

  1. As usual, bring parents into the conversation. Even though it may be a little painful at first, they really do need to be fully aware of the situation and their role in it. I suggest taking a very tactful approach in sharing this information. The last thing you want to do is alienate parents by seemingly “bashing” them.
  2. Teach students the power of ALL of their words. No one can “un-say” vulgarities, just like no one can “un-hear” them. Teenagers’ words can either point to, or detract from, the faith they model before their community. Whether they reflect on it or not, teens mentally note that certain friends do, and certain other friends do not, use profanity. A clean mouth is a powerful point of ministry witness.

In addition to the means you take in helping teens clean up their language, add patience. Remember, you’re endeavoring to help them change a learned behavior. Encourage them by reminding them that this move is something Christ Himself celebrates for them!

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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