The first time Gabriel cursed, he was four years old. I was at the park with him. As I was sitting on the bench, he ran over to me out of breath, visibly upset.
“Daddy! That little boy over there said I said ‘shit!’ I would never say ‘shit!'”
The absolute hardest thing to do as a parent is not burst out laughing when you’re supposed to be serious. I let him know that I appreciated his stance on cursing, and that I believed him when he said he didn’t curse. He was satisfied, and went back to playing.
In reality though, I know that he’s never stopped cursing. I’ve caught him a couple of times. I was on the phone with him a few years ago, and he thought I’d hung up. He clicked over and called his friend, and greeted him with, “What’s up my nigga?” I let him know I was still on the phone, and he apologized.
I really don’t care though. Like I said, once kids stop cursing, they don’t stop, they just stop cursing in front of adults. I remember being a rebellious fourth grader and saying “damn” every chance I got. As with most behaviors with children, chastising them doesn’t get them to stop, it just gets them to hide it. When the adults were around, I was on my best linguistic behavior. But once I was without supervision, I let the (mild) expletives fly.
And besides, what’s the harm? Of all the things we reserve for adulthood, cursing is the most silly by far. Unlike alcohol, drugs and sex, there’s no harm in cursing (except for reputational harm, but that’s a conversation for another day). People just don’t like to hear children curse for very ill-defined reasons: it’s “not appropriate” adults say, but what does that mean? We don’t even teach kids the time and place for cursing; we just have a blanket prohibition on it.
I say let kids say whatever they want. When someone says “darn,” they really mean “damn,” or “shoot” instead of “shit,” so why does the word itself matter if the euphemistic implications are clear? Language is fun and cursing is fun, and I don’t really see any reason to restrict that fun based solely on age.