Zero Tolerance for Disrespectful, Cussing Kids

Rarely a day goes by where I don’t hear young children and teenagers speaking in an extremely disrespectful manner toward their parents, even cussing at their parents. What I find most amazing is that the disrespectful, inflammatory language towards their parents often goes completely ignored. Not so much as a parent firmly telling their children not to speak to them that way, that such language will not be tolerated, followed by appropriate punishment to really drive home the point. I shake my head in disbelief and complete disappointment in parents these days, who are shirking their responsibility to be tough but loving, teaching and training their children in matters of respect towards parents and other authority figures. Parents who don’t get this problem under control while their children are still very young, are in for a real shock when they reach the “surviving the teen years” stage.

Parents tell their children not to whine, complain, throw a temper tantrum, hit their brother or sister etc, but when the parents are upset or frustrated about something, profanities start flying without hesitation. School teachers struggle to maintain decorum and control of classrooms full of disrespectful children and teenagers, only to be told by parents that their job is to teach math and science, not subjective morality. Women who used to flinch at the utterance of coarse language are more commonly using the very words previously thought of as repulsive and vulgar.

Gone are the days of men controlling their use of cuss words and other vulgarities in the presence of women. Parents who verbally abuse each other, calling each other hurtful names, using profane language with each other, are equally guilty of abusing their children by such speech. Is it any wonder that our society is filled with children and teenagers who have zero respect for any form of authority, especially their own parents? What is a parent to do?

Set the right example-

Television programs, movies, actors and actresses, children’s cartoons, video and online games are loaded with profane and vulgar language, yet parents don’t pay close enough attention to what they’re children are learning from them. Teaching children how to be respectful towards others, controlling their emotions and dealing with their problems, cannot be learned by regularly exposing children to such things in the media or from their own parents mouths.

I recently overheard my eighteen year-old daughter talking on the telephone to one of her classmates saying, “Dude, I can’t believe you just said that to your mom. My mom would kill me if I talked to her that way!” Although I’m not one to “kill” my child for any reason, my children learned from a very young age to speak and behave in a respectful manner to everyone they came in contact with, maintaining zero tolerance of disrespect or cussing for any reason. They were taught to learn new words to convey their thoughts, emotions and feelings, without resorting to vulgarities. My biggest concern was not “surviving the teen years” with my children, but was more broadly focused on not raising “children who refuse to grow up” and making sure they grew up understanding that there is a difference between “helping and enabling” children, so they would grow up to become self-sufficient adults.

Making substitutions-

It is my firm belief that cussing and swearing, whether by children or adults, is simply lazy language skills. Cussing and swearing puts an immediate point across, leaving its meaning and tone very clear to anyone in listening range. Just because such language is more commonly used, and supposedly some of its harshness has been lost, doesn’t make it alright. Striving to build ones vocabulary with words that communicate just as clearly and effectively doesn’t have to become stale, monotonous, tedious, boring, trite or lackluster.

Cuss ControlJames O’Connor, author of Cuss Control: The Complete Book on How to Curb Your Cursing (Three Rivers Press), suggests teaching children alternative words such as shoot, darn it, phooey, for crying out loud, and my old favorite dognabit. For young children who are just beginning to use cuss words, it’s important not to laugh about it, but get down on your hands and knees and look them in the eyes and say, “We don’t use words like that in our family” and mean it. Parents who need to learn to curb their own tendencies towards such language do well to openly apologize to their children when making a slip into vulgarity, with genuine promises to continue doing better.

Appropriate discipline needed-

Parenting Toward SolutionsLinda Metcalf, author of Parenting Toward Solutions (Prentice Hall), recommends “make the word, not the child, the culprit to give him a chance to move away from the behavior”. If the child persists in using such language, Linda emphasizes the need to “show him you mean business with appropriate disciplinary action”. For very young children, it may mean a time-out or taking away a favorite toy. For older children it may mean spending some time in their room (preferably a room without a television or computer) where they can analyze their behavior.

But most importantly, parents must set the right example for their children, themselves behaving and speaking with proper respect toward others, without resorting to the perceived “easy way out” of cussing.

Helpful Resources:

Raising Children with Tough Love
Surviving The Teen Years
Cuss Control: The Complete Book on How to Curb Your Cursing
Parenting Toward Solutions: How Parents Can Use Skills They Already Have to Raise Responsible, Loving Kids

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33 Responses to “Zero Tolerance for Disrespectful, Cussing Kids”

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  1. Suzanne says:

    What do you do when your adult son who has bipolar disorder, conduct disorder, you name it, been to prison, cusses and uses vulgar and rude language and laughs at you when you say don’t. I taught him to be respectful at a very early age and I once had control and his respect, but that is long gone. He even is starting to make sexual comments to me and my daughter and thinks it funny that we flip out. He tells me I need to grow up. We’re adults he says. So disappointing and scary.

  2. Lin says:

    Hi Suzanne, although we’ve been having a conversation about this by email, I wanted to respond here as well for anyone else who might be wondering the same thing.

    I hold firmly to Zero Tolerance, regardless of treatable conditions such as BiPolar disorder or anything else that is often used as an excuse for lousy behavior and zero respect.

    Your son is an adult, and there is nothing wrong with putting your foot down firmly by letting him know in no uncertain terms that speaking to you disrespectfully or cussing at you will not be tolerated under any circumstances.

    Tell him straight up and without mincing your words that anytime he talks to you or your daughter in those ways he is NOT welcome in your home and to Get Out Now. Open the door and kick him out of your home. Tell him he is only welcome to step foot in your home when he shows you and your daughter the respect you both deserve, otherwise “don’t come back”.

    Say it and mean it. Change the locks if you have to. Make clear to your daughter that he is not allowed in the home unless YOU say so, and not to even open the door if he’s standing there knocking etc. Under no circumstances should you allow this to continue. Do not allow his diagnosis of BiPolar as an excuse to treat you and your daughter this way. If he’s taking medication at all, that should at least help him be clear minded enough to understand when you tell him under no circumstances will that language be tolerated. If he’s not taking medication for BiPolar, then he’s chosen to not be under treatment for whatever his reasons/excuses. Do not allow him to disrupt your home and family environment with his attitude and behavior. Show him where the door is, and then close and lock it behind him, and the ONLY time he is welcome back in your home is when he’s shown by his change of attitude and behavior that he will respect you and your home.

  3. Suzanne says:

    I am seeing a counselor starting this week so I am planning on following your advice. It’s so hard to regain control. Hope this helps others not to lose it in the first place. And I might add, some of us have taught our children well but they choose not to be the people they were raised to be. Then we, the parents, are so lost in disappointment that we don’t handle the problem. I am single with no other family and have become pretty much isolated. That makes for no support system and it’s not easy to lock your only son out and walk away. But I’m taking steps and have faith things will turn around.

  4. Neddah says:

    You’ve never had to deal with someone who has full blown Bipolar Disorder, have you? Often they really can’t control it, and even on medication, sometimes the drugs don’t work. At all. It can take YEARS to find the right balance of medications, and in the mean time it takes a lot of hard work and patience in all concerned to moderate behavior. And even then it’s not always possible. Yes, Bipolar is treatable, but with vastly differing success levels in different people.

    I have Bipolar Disorder. I very recently started a new course of treatment that actually seems to be working, and one of the more obvious changes is that I’ve stopped swearing. I didn’t used to, when I was young, but when the Bipolar kicked in, so did the language. Every time one of those bad words slipped out my mouth, a part of me was shocked and appalled, but I couldn’t stop it. Most of the time I didn’t even realize I’d said it until someone looked at me with a shocked expression. It’s the same with the mood swings…I KNEW I was overreacting, but I couldn’t stop it. And believe me, I did try. Getting on the right medication has stopped it, without me even thinking about it at all, which tells me that my sense of shame and flabbergasted horror when those words would fall from my lips was right on target… it wasn’t me talking.

    Bipolar Disorder is essentially a brain chemistry imbalance… one that can be difficult up to impossible to fully correct. And poor control over language use is one of the more common symptoms… falls right in with poor temper management. We hear the words, just walking around in public, so they’re in our brains, for good, they can’t be erased, and when your internal filter does not work, those words can come out with no real intention of using them. It’s not an excuse, though some people may use it as such, it’s the way the brain works when the chemicals aren’t right. Sometimes that can be corrected, sometimes it can’t, and calling mental illness an excuse is disrespectful, and demeans the years of heartache, anguish, and desperation that go with these disorders. Never mind the ridiculously hard work it is for those of us so afflicted to deal with them from the inside.

    So while you are quite correct that smutty language is bad for relationships, disrespectful, rude, and I’ll even go so far as to agree with you on the lazy point, please don’t make statements concerning mental illnesses that are clearly based in your own personal feelings and not a factual understanding of the diseases themselves. It’s offensive, and discriminatory, and I did not appreciate it one little bit.

    That being said… I quite agree with your suggestions as to how Suzanne should handle the situation with her son. Regardless of his illnesses, he is a legal adult, and her choices at this point are to have him committed to a mental institution (good luck with that, it’s a lot harder after 18), or establish control by the only means she still has available… control over her home and what behavior is acceptable within.

    @Suzanne – he’s an adult, hon. You have the right to lay down a very simple rule: Disrespectful behavior is not allowed in my home. Those who cannot behave in a polite fashion are not welcome either.

    If you enforce it, you might be surprised… mental illness or no, he may just learn.

    • Lin says:


      Yes, I have had to deal with someone on a daily basis who was diagnosed with BiPolar Disorder in his late teens. You’re right that BiPolar Medications are difficult to get balanced out correctly, and I’ve had firsthand experience with that as well with that young man. After years of taking medication for BiPolar, this young man was tested and retested numerous times, where eventually the doctors came to the conclusion that the diagnosis of BiPolar Disorder was incorrect. More tests were taken and eventually another diagnosis was made, something entirely different from BiPolar and much more serious in my opinion. In my opinion…, children are diagnosed and mis-diagnosed with all sorts of “childhood diseases” all the time, including ADD or ADHD. Not to mention all the medications kids are put on because someone (a doctor or parent) makes a snap judgment that their child MUST be ADD or BiPolar or…..insert whatever illness you wish.

      I stand by my response to Suzanne, who did not say her son was a young child diagnosed with bipolar, but is actually a grown man who chooses/refuses to take any medications for his diagnosis. If Suzanne had said her experience was with a young child or pre-teen exhibiting these behaviors, I would have recommended she take her son to the doctor and have some tests run to find a possible cause of his behavior. Then get a second and even third opinion. That was obviously not the case.

      Children who are BiPolar, and even children who have Turette Syndrome (sp?) and/or other conditions, have been shown to use bad language without any intention of doing so and often find themselves shocked when such words come out of their mouth. That was not what Suzanne was talking about, so I did not respond as if that was what she was referring to.

      The young man I mentioned earlier, who was mis-diagnosed with Bi-Polar and loaded up with medications to help curb an illness he didn’t actually have, was eventually put into prison where he remains to this day. The true “illness” this young man has I won’t detail here because it’s completely irrelevant to this discussion, but had he been properly diagnosed years ago, perhaps his family and victims wouldn’t be suffering from his choices and actions taken.

  5. Suzanne says:

    Hi Neddah,
    I am glad you have found the right medication and things are good in your life. My situation is very different as my son doesn’t care and thinks everyone else has the problem. When he was a child, I could not have asked for a better boy. As he matured he became totally unmanageable and now is in jail. I have had him removed from my home too many times to count. He has broken furniture, put holes in solid oak doors, (thank God it wasn’t me or my daughter) cussed us every vile word he knows. For nothing but the power of him having control over us being afraid. On many occasions when I have called the police out because he is intoxicated or on street drugs, they have advised me and my daughter to leave until he calms down. Talk about making the situation worse. He has laughed at us as we are getting a few things and leaving MY home. He is always sorry later, but we have to deal with him in the moment of violence and cannot wait til later. He has other issues besides bi-polar, but I doubt he will change and opt to manage himself until forced.

    By going to counseling I am realizing that I am his mother only, not his keeper. I had him in the doctor’s office many times, hospital, testing, counseling, rehab, jail visits you name it. My job is done except to be supportive and love him. I don’t have to be a victim. It’s up to him at this age to accept responsibility for his own treatment. And it’s up to me to demand a safe environment for myself. That’s what I am trying to do. Good luck to you always.

  6. Suzanne says:

    Hi Lin,
    I wanted to say that I visited my son in jail today and he had written a poem which was an expression of his feelings. One of his friends was there also and my son told him to read it silently because I wouldn’t care for the vulgar parts. So I took that as a sign he’s getting a clue that some words are not for mothers. He told me it is a really good poem to which I told him I’d take his word for it and he put it away. Before counseling I would have read it anyway thinking I should always be involved in everything he did. Now I know there are parts of him that I should stay out of. So I have set a boundary not only for him but for me as well. I know it’s a small step but I’m doing it.

    • Lin says:

      Suzanne, I’m so glad you’ve been working hard to discover the numerous benefits of allowing your grown children to lead their own lives and deal with their own self-made problems. Setting boundaries of what is and is not acceptable behavior, and then sticking to the boundaries firmly is hard but necessary. Good for you that you are sticking to your plan to not be pulled into drama-like situations, and I’m thrilled you decided not to read that poem. You’re showing you mean business. Yeah!

  7. Lin C. says:

    I’d also recommend keeping in tune with a child’s emotional needs. Proverbially, you can teach your child not to hit all you want, but if s/he is backed in a corner with no other means of escape, s/he’s going to swing. I remember being bullied daily to tears for years in elementary school in a situation where the staff wouldn’t do anything about it because the bullies’ parents gave a lot of money to the school, but I was continuously sent there despite my pleas to go someplace else (there were numerous affordable options) because that’s where my father went. One May day I had enough and told my parents – with grammatically-correct placed cuss words in between – that they could not make me go there, that I would leave the building the minute they left me there, and I didn’t care if they went to jail for it. Next day, my mother started seeing what places had spots available in the fall, and I did not return to the elementary school. Talk about positively reinforcing – if not rewarding – cursing at authority! I know it wasn’t the right thing for me to do, but should I have endured 2 more years of torment for my father’s pride? I don’t think so.

    • Lin says:

      Hi Lin C, I’m so sorry you had to go through this. Bullying is a huge problem and has been for a very long time, and it’s extremely unfortunate when adults don’t do anything to protect children from being bullied. I’m glad that your parents finally realized the gravity of the problem and got you out of that school. Many years ago my oldest son was being picked on in elementary school, but it only lasted the one day, where some kid kept teasing my son and ended up punching my son in the ear. My son’s ear drum was busted by the punch and the school called me immediately to tell me about it. I arrived there shortly thereafter and when the principal told me no action would be taken against the boy who hit my son, I immediately withdrew my son from the school and put him in another school where he had no problems at all. Some parents just don’t get it and don’t really listen to their kids pleas, which sometimes comes out in losing their temper and cussing.


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