Monday, April 27, 2015

Bad Words

So, we don't do a lot of swearing in our home.

I have my vices and negative points, for sure (Complaining and whining? Uh-huh. Worrying and nagging? Procrastinating? Yes. Loving food too much and exercise too little? Absolutely.) but cursing isn't one of them. Same goes for Dan.

And so it goes that we haven't had to deal with the swearing issue the way many parents of both typical kids or verbal children on the autism spectrum do.

Until now.

It's simple: Kids repeat what they hear, whether it's from their parents, other kids at school, or on the TV, radio or online. Kids with autism have a special talent for filing away certain phrases or words and pulling them out and repeating them later (i.e. "scripting"). Which is why we can be driving with Ethan and he will throw out the slogans he's picked up from car commercials every time one drives by ("Nissan. Innovation that excites!").

In our house we're always on a quest to find shows we can watch as a family (and I don't mean some Disney Channel series that will turn my brain to mush). It's slim pickings out there, but recently we found that Netflix has a gazillion episodes of The Amazing Race.

I love The Amazing Race. I live vicariously through these world travelers doing things I'd be too chicken or airheaded to accomplish. The kids have really gotten into it, too. Overall, it's a pretty benign show, but of course sometimes people get tense and stressed and lose their tempers with each other.

The other day Ethan was playing a game on the Wii when I heard him bark out at one of the characters on the screen, "What the hell are you doing?"

It wasn't just the words, it was the inflection of his voice. I knew exactly who he was mimicking.

"Ethan, did you hear Jen and Keisha from The Amazing Race saying that?" He acknowledged yes.

This brings me to my next point: How in the world do you explain which "bad words" not to use to someone who is so completely innocent and literal?

Right around the same time, someone on the episode called someone else a "bitch."

"Bad word!" I called out. I'd decided to just straight out identify the words he couldn't say.

"Why is it a bad word?" he asked.

And of course I was completely stumped. Anna sat there, looking expectantly at me as if she were waiting for an explanation as well.

"Well, there are certain words, and they are considered rude when we say them to people. They're not polite, and we don't use them..." This was quite possibly the lamest explanation I'd ever given as a parent. I briefly considered looking up swear words on Wikipedia. How DID these things come to be known as the "bad words?"

A few days later, we were watching Back to the Future and I knew I'd have to be on Bad Words Patrol. Now, I know conventional wisdom is to not overreact about your child saying something inappropriate or it will encourage them to keep saying it. But I did feel I needed to instill a little dose of healthy fear into Ethan. I could just see him getting mad at his teacher and demanding in his best Jen-from-Amazing-Race-voice, "What the hell are you doing!?"

I love Back to the Future. For years it was one of my favorite movies. We've been waiting to watch this with the kids. While it has a few "questionable moments," it's pretty innocent, overall. I knew some of the stuff would go right over Ethan's head. But when we got to the part where Doc Brown starts revving up his Delorean time machine in the mall parking lot and says, "When this baby gets to 88 miles per hour, you're going to see some serious sh..."

"...Bad word!" I called out again, realizing how ridiculous this was.

"Don't say that word at school. You could be sent to the principal's office," I said sternly. Ethan looked at me quizzically.

I'm just grateful we haven't (and won't be) watching anything with the "F" word.

I guess this is one of those times where that old adage about the parent not having to offer their child explanations about everything, or reasons why they are being disciplined, applies. "Parents do too much talking these days," I heard a wise woman who counsels parents and families say not long ago. I was glad she reminded me that sometimes, it really is okay to just end a statement with, "Because I said so." It doesn't mean I'm turning into a tyrant, or into my own parents. It's just part of life and parenting. Some things can't be explained. Like how sh%$# became a swear word. I just can't go there.

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