I entered middle school in the fall of 1999. During the first few days of school I could tell that a lot of the rules had changed—rules like how you should dress, how you should act, and how much gel you should put in your hair. I was caught off-guard by all the changes. I felt like everybody else had been clued into some insider information over the summer that, for whatever reason, had not made its way to me quite yet.
The biggest change of all was the rules about what you could and couldn’t say. From the very first day of 6th grade I observed that kids swore a lot. It was shocked and so naïve. I was confounded by kids who never swore in 5th grade and then came into 6th grade using four-letter words like they were going out of style.
The kids at my middle school swore so much that it didn’t make sense. They would say a swear word just to say a swear word, not because it fit into a sentence. It was almost like a competition to see who could use the most profanity.
I remember feeling frustrated, confused, and angry at this. It was difficult to not swear throughout middle school. I wasn’t sure what I could do about it other than try my best to stick to my convictions and use clean language.
Having talked to middle school students and parents today, it appears much hasn’t changed related to swearing. In fact, I believe swearing is the biggest temptation that middle school boys face—more than pornography or drinking or drugs. Students are surrounded by it everyday at school and it seems like everyone is doing it. Throwing out a curse word here or there is so easy and so acceptable.
As parents and youth workers I assume you want your middle schooler(s) to use speech that is uplifting toward God, others, and themselves. We’re not with students every moment of the day and their peers are growing increasingly influential in their lives, but we can still help them resist the temptation to swear. Here are five things you can do to support a middle schooler who is surrounded by a culture of profanity:
- Model pure speech at home—even when you get mad, are running late while stuck in traffic, or smash your finger with a hammer.
- Begin and maintain open dialogue with him about what kind of language his peers are using. Give him the freedom to ask you what certain words mean, even if it turns out some are totally inappropriate. Hopefully this will help him discern what is and is not acceptable for him to say.
- Deal firmly with any foul language he uses at home. It’s up to you to decide what constitutes foul language at your home and what the consequences are for breaking your rules, but he should know he will be held to a certain speech standard when he’s at your house.
- Help filter the media he consumes. I’m savvy enough to know that middle school boys encounter plenty of swearing through the media they normally consume. You can’t possibly ensure he’ll never hear a swear word in movies, music, and video games, but please don’t let him watch, play, or listen to whatever he wants in an unfiltered manner. He’s not ready for that kind of responsibility.
- Encourage him when you observe him choosing pure speech. It’s difficult doing the right thing no matter how old you are, especially when it seems like everybody else is doing something else.
That being said, here’s the toughest thing you have to know: Admit the possibility that even though he uses clean speech at home, it doesn’t mean he uses clean language everywhere else in his life. Middle school boys are good at living double-lives by putting on a good act for their parents (and youth pastors) and being a very different person around their friends.
You should hope for the best from him but be discerning in this regard. If you want clues about how he speaks when he’s not around you, pay attention to what his friends say when you’re around them, how he talks to people on the phone, what he texts to his friends, and what he says on social media.
Encouraging and disciplining your son to use pure speech is worth fighting for. From a biblical perspective, especially the book of James, we know that our speech is powerful. It has the ability to affect many other areas of our life. Your middle schooler needs your support right now—it’s difficult to not swear when you’re in middle school.