1. acermapleb

    acermapleb Member

    Joined:
    May 8, 2020
    Messages:
    23
    Likes Received:
    39

    When do average children start swearing?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by acermapleb, Jul 23, 2020.

    I'm working on a novella. The protagonist is a seventeen-year-old girl who's been kidnapped and is being held captive against her will. One day a twelve-year-old is introduced to her, having been kidnapped as well. The twelve-year-old is very sweet and innocent, but she has trouble controlling her emotions and often has panic attacks and temper tantrums.

    I'm experimenting with having the younger girl swear - just a few times, in heated, furious, terrified outbursts (things like "get the [f] away from me!"). It seems reasonably in-character, but I don't exactly remember when I or my friends began swearing, so I'm wondering if she's too young. She's a sweet kid, and she's been raised in a very comfortable environment and never really heard her parents curse, but she can become violent when her emotions overtake her. Does it seem reasonable that such a twelve-year-old would swear?
     
    Kyle Phoenix likes this.
  2. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum

    Joined:
    Dec 24, 2019
    Messages:
    2,022
    Likes Received:
    3,150
    Location:
    edge of the spacetime continuum
    Is the 12-year old also a captive? Never mind, I re-read your post and see the answer is yes. I think that might make anybody swear. Before you mentioned an age, I was thinking "around 6th grade maybe" (for the decent kids, some swear from the time they learn to talk because of the parents). I think 6th grade is about 12 years old, isn't it?
     
  3. EFMingo

    EFMingo A Nefarious Flamingo Staff Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 10, 2014
    Messages:
    2,249
    Likes Received:
    3,625
    Location:
    San Diego, California
    This depends entirely on the people in their environment. Swear words are often simply exclamations, and if the parents of caretakers swear often around the child then the child can start at really any age, most especially if the caretakers don't make an effort to stop them.

    And that can be 6th or 7th grade, depending on the birthday of the child.
     
    Xoic likes this.
  4. Dogberry's Watch

    Dogberry's Watch Senior Member

    Joined:
    Nov 26, 2019
    Messages:
    1,546
    Likes Received:
    3,874
    My niece says shit and she's just over 18 months old, but that's because as EFMingo says, her parents use that word a lot so it's in her environment.

    I started swearing when I was 12. My sister when she was 10? But we never swore in front of our parents until we were older.

    I think in the case of your 12 year old captive, she's well past swearing being problematic. A situation like that is pretty stressful so I believe almost anyone would swear under such circumstances. It's still a bit jarring to hear someone under the age of 16 swear, But dunno why 16 is the cut off.
     
  5. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2016
    Messages:
    1,205
    Likes Received:
    1,488
    I remember a family I was living with. Their toddler daughter, after having learned to use the toilet, would flush it and gaily wave to the disappearing turds, saying "Bye-bye, shit!"

    But as for "average children," I've never met one, so I can't say. I can only affirm that children will use the language they have heard from their parents, and usually know by the context what times the swearing is appropriate.
     
  6. TheOtherPromise

    TheOtherPromise Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2020
    Messages:
    216
    Likes Received:
    209
    It really depends on the person. I'm an adult man and my go to 'swear' word is golly.

    For an average, the first time I recall hearing a classmate swear was in fifth grade. By middle school it was prevalent enough to say the average kid would at least know the words.

    From my perspective having a twelve year old drop the F-bomb kind of goes against the sweet and innocent characterization. She can and would probably swear, but maybe use cuter pseudo-swear words. Like "Get away from me, you dumb-butts" or "Get the popsicle stand away from me". But I'm fairly profanity adverse, so I'm a bit biased here.
     
  7. Rzero

    Rzero Reluctant voice of his generation Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 29, 2018
    Messages:
    1,212
    Likes Received:
    2,157
    Location:
    Texas
    It's totally believable for a few reasons including age and everything else already mentioned, but if the seventeen-year-old is cursing, and the twelve-year-old hears it, she will pick it up immediately, even if she wasn't in the habit before. I know they're in an extreme situation, but if she wants this much older girl to like her at all, she'll emulate her to a degree.
     
  8. Larro

    Larro Member

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2020
    Messages:
    76
    Likes Received:
    139
    Location:
    Bed
    Absolutely My nine year old has been experimenting this year with a few choice words he picked up in the playground... You could substitute 'what the eff' with 'what the hell' if you think it's too strong for the character.
     
  9. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 30, 2018
    Messages:
    689
    Likes Received:
    703
    Location:
    Norwich, UK
    That depends how they've been raised. But I started swearing in my teens (14) with friends though, not around adults or my parents.
     
  10. Lazaares

    Lazaares Active Member

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2020
    Messages:
    167
    Likes Received:
    229
    Location:
    Europe
    The wonders of a childhood in eastern Europe. TL/DR It's all about what you bring from home.

    There was a boy in daycare who was swearing all fine at the age of four. I recall it because his mouth was washed every time with soap to discipline him (don't think that's even legal anymore). My best friend was cursing fine around the age of 8. We had racial slurs thrown around in our class from 4th grade onwards (age 10-11). By the age of 14 it was pretty much everything, including a group of antisemite classmates harshly disciplined for grouping at a teacher. Mind; the far right had/has a prominent presence here.

    A scale was somewhat present; daycare didn't really see much else than our version of "shit" and "asshole". Similarly, racial slurs went from calls on skin colour to full-out slurs between grades 4th and 8th.

    Depending on where your character was raised and how, she could be cussing like a trucker.
     
  11. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    16,764
    Likes Received:
    18,603
    Location:
    Scotland
    It seems pretty prevalent these days, to swear as part of talking. I don't know what effort parents/teachers make to curb it, but I certainly encounter children who swear all the time. (You hear it in passing, on buses, etc.) Nobody seems to turn a hair.

    If your story is set in the present day, I'd say swearing is perfectly plausible in a child of the age of 12, unless she's led a very sheltered life (like no online social media contacts!) and/or disciplined by parents for doing so.

    If the story is set, say, in the 1950s and 60s, however, that won't hold true. I certainly didn't swear when I was a child ...it just wouldn't have occurred to me. My parents didn't swear. I remember when Rhett Butler's retort to Scarlett, at the end of Gone With The Wind ...using the word 'damn' ...was still a BIG big deal. Swearing didn't happen on TV, and only rarely in movies (the kind I wasn't allowed to go to.) The thing is, I don't remember hearing kids my age swearing either ...or if they did, it was a BIG DEAL.

    Times have changed. Frankly, I'm not all that bothered by 'swear words.' In fact, I think swearing under pressure is a pretty harmless way to let off steam, although too much of it can get tedious. When almost every statement contains the word fuck and every adverb and adjective is fucking, that can get as boring to listen to as 'y'know, y'know, I'm like, I'm like, awesome, awesome, awesome, etc.

    I'm more bothered by personally directed insults that seem to be the done thing these days ...specifically calling somebody a disparaging name, or attacking them on social media. That's not spontaneous or a merely annoying habit; it's calculated to cause distress. Different thing altogether.
     
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2020
  12. Stormsong07

    Stormsong07 Living in my own little world Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2017
    Messages:
    968
    Likes Received:
    1,458
    Location:
    Texas
    My 12 and 14 year old stepdaughters are swearing like they are grown women. It annoys the hell out of me, but I cuss like a effin sailor so who am I to criticize? I started cussing in middle school (6-8th grade) but never in front of my parents. In this day and age, I feel like it's much more accepted, for whatever reason, for younger kids to cuss. I don't agree, but it's not like I'm in charge of anything.
     
  13. Samlet

    Samlet Member

    Joined:
    Jul 20, 2020
    Messages:
    22
    Likes Received:
    45
    Location:
    Wales
    About 7.30 in the morning, in our house.
     
  14. acermapleb

    acermapleb Member

    Joined:
    May 8, 2020
    Messages:
    23
    Likes Received:
    39
    Everyone: thank you so much for your responses! This has been really helpful and reassuring.

    See, yes, that's generally what I'm feeling: I'm thinking the stress would be enough to push her to swear. Yep, 6th grade is 11 or 12 years old, which seems reasonable; I just started swearing a bit late, so I wanted to make sure I wasn't totally off the mark.

    Gotcha, that's really helpful! In terms of the characterization, I suppose it would be more accurate to say that she's sweet when she's calm. She's never been put in a really high-pressure situation before, and her new captive environment is getting the best of her: she's losing control of her emotions and her innocence is being chipped away quickly. It's an interesting duality with her, because she can be incredibly violent when she gets heated, but she almost never does, which is where the "sweetness" comes in. But anyway, yes: having those sort of "pseudo-swear words" is a really great idea, and I'll play with having her use some of those!

    And finally...

    This is really weird, but your comment was totally on the mark: the seventeen-year-old does swear, and the twelve-year-old is desperate for any kind of friendship or connection, so she does emulate her, and that all makes sense; I just hadn't consciously put those pieces together. But throughout the story, the younger girl does take on a lot of the habits of the older girl; I just hadn't really seen it like that before! Thank you!

    Thanks again, everyone; your input really helps! Good to know I'm not totally off the mark characterizing this child :)
     
  15. Partridge

    Partridge Active Member

    Joined:
    May 30, 2017
    Messages:
    230
    Likes Received:
    200
    Location:
    Cambridgeshire, UK
    For me, starting to swear went in stages.

    I'd learned most four letter words by the age of 11, but didn't say them (but I might think them instead).
    I only started to use them out loud when when I turned about 15...And never stopped :D
     
  16. Sergeant Mirror

    Sergeant Mirror Member

    Joined:
    Jul 9, 2019
    Messages:
    22
    Likes Received:
    12
    I was 5 when I learnt the F bomb, learnt it at school of course, I had no idea what it meant
     
  17. Fervidor

    Fervidor Active Member

    Joined:
    Feb 23, 2020
    Messages:
    239
    Likes Received:
    261
    Location:
    Sweden
    Depends on the child, really. I practically never swear seriously, even though most of my family does, as did the majority of kids I grew up around. It just never felt right.

    Generally, I'd say twelve is old enough. However, if this girl is not prone to swearing normally and grew up in an environment where it wasn't normal, a tantrum may not include swearing since it's not how she's accustomed to communicating. Swearing is really more of a habit people pick up, and most don't swear specifically because they are upset but rather because it's how they emphasize feelings when they speak.

    Being really upset may even make this girl less likely to swear because she wouldn't have the presence of mind to think about what she's saying, and would fall back on the speech pattern she's most used to.

    That said, your scenario isn't too implausible and may be effective simply because it's jarring. Consider establishing or at least implying that she has in fact picked this habit up somehow - say from less sheltered friends or the internet or whatever - and maybe just avoids using swears with people she doesn't know to maintain her "sweet innocent girl" image.

    (She can still be sweet and innocent for real, mind you, because while swearing can be a bad habit it isn't really a moral failing.)
     
    Samlet likes this.
  18. Foxxx

    Foxxx The Debonair Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 7, 2016
    Messages:
    2,627
    Likes Received:
    3,068
    Location:
    The Heaven and Hell in my mind.
    For me, I was probably fucking five or six.
     
    Xoic likes this.
  19. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum

    Joined:
    Dec 24, 2019
    Messages:
    2,022
    Likes Received:
    3,150
    Location:
    edge of the spacetime continuum
    ^ This thread is about average children... o_O :p
     
    Foxxx likes this.
  20. GrJs

    GrJs Active Member

    Joined:
    Apr 26, 2018
    Messages:
    176
    Likes Received:
    114
    I would say that if the child has heard her captors swear and has been around a bit longer than your main character then yes. But because she didn't grow up with parents who use profanity often I'd say she'd need a bit of time to get up there unless her parents didn't much care for the language she was exposed to or used even with their lack of use
     
  21. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum

    Joined:
    Dec 24, 2019
    Messages:
    2,022
    Likes Received:
    3,150
    Location:
    edge of the spacetime continuum
    ^ Well, even the nicest kids would be familiar with it, they'd hear it from other kids at school or in their friend groups, from parents of friends etc. So she would know the words even if she never used them before, and then the trauma of captivity could push her to a point where she starts talking like that and changes from a good girl to no fucks given.
     
  22. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2014
    Messages:
    3,637
    Likes Received:
    3,844
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    I learned to swear in 5th grade (11 years old), and that was in the mid-1960s. You pretty much had to, to be considered cool.

    As I recall, it was all semi-blasphemous and scatological. We didn't do the sexual swears. From what I hear as a sub teacher around middle schools these days, that has changed.

    So yeah, your 12 year old might have some language to bring out. The question is, would she in that situation? I mean, when she learned to swear was it to shock the grownups? If so, she might be afraid to use it with her captor. He might punish her more. On the other hand, if the words have become integral to how she expresses herself, yeah, she might well let it rip.
     
  23. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2016
    Messages:
    1,205
    Likes Received:
    1,488
    Ah, I remember when I was in the Boy Scouts. The older boys would teach the younger boys the ribald version of "The Ants Go Marching One By One" (which was a parody of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again," which was in itself based on the Irish ballad "Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ya" ... but I digress.) I think I was around nine or ten at the time.

    One of the lines was "The ants go marching four by four, the little ones stop to fuck a whore." It gave us a delicious thrill to sing it, even though we didn't have a clue what a whore was, and only the faintest notion of what fucking was. Maybe children today are less innocent, since so many television shows have had roles for prostitutes.
     

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice