The 'baddest' bad word

All Woman

A couple years ago when schools were operating as normal, my daughters and I were driving home and having our usual conversation about our day — the high points, the jokes, the things that irked, and if canteen lunch was good that day. Then suddenly in her typical cuteness, honest curiosity and penchant for great timing, my six-year-old chimed in with the following question, “Is f**k a bad word?” As the word innocently fell from her lips, the rest of us held our breaths and gasped for air at the same time. “What did she just say?” I said to myself. My baby didn't just use the 'f word'. The moment seemed unreal.

The shocked expressions on the faces of my 11-year-old and eight-year-old were frozen. They couldn't believe their ears. All this as my six-year-old eagerly waited for an answer. You see, up to this point, the biggest and 'baddest' bad word that she knew to be a bonafide bad word in our house was “shut up”. That phrase was not to be used; not because the words are inherently bad, but because we had agreed that it was crude and disrespectful and that we would not use the phrase to each other or with anyone, out of pure respect and love. Yes we would hear it used by others, on TV and elsewhere, but I made a law — “shut up” was not to be used. So in that moment, that afternoon, it wouldn't have been that milder outlawed phrase that would be the subject of her question. It was the big guns, the 'f bomb'.

“Where did you hear that word?” I asked, pretending to be cool and calm. “Well, me and my friends were making up funny words and changing up word endings and I came up with that word,” she shared delightfully. Of course given her brand of creativity and the unique way her mind works, this was not entirely surprising.

At this point her sisters finally exhaled and admonished that the 'f word' is a major bad word. I could hear all the mores their father and I had infused in their admonition. Of course, that was a winning parenting moment — I was beaming with pride inside. As the conversation progressed I also affirmed their big sister moment. I, however, didn't bother to explain the origin and meanings of the word, just a firm rule that this word was extremely inappropriate and should never, ever be used by respectable, decent children. Furthermore, this word could get you in trouble at school and at home and you could face dire consequences. Thankfully, there were no further questions from anyone.

Now, a few years later, it has become more difficult to manage the words that my daughters are exposed to. Recently watching CNN after one of the US presidential debates, the commentator in her analysis proceeded to describe the exchange in the debate as a “sh*t show”. Our entire family and the children were watching, and similar to a few years ago, we had a moment of pause. While I agreed with the commentator in essence, in principle I thought she could have employed something less crude from the vast vocabulary of English words available to describe the incredulity of the exchange. We weren't watching a PG-13 or R-rated blockbuster, we were watching the evening news.

So today's parents have to police international news a little more than we had to a few years ago. Thankfully, local stations TVJ and CVM have remained ethical and responsible and the Broadcasting Commission continues to effectively monitor broadcast content.

Of course, with classes now being online and pranksters and paedophiles booming Zoom classes, there are now a whole other host of issues besides bad words. Now more than ever parents have to more closely monitor what their children are doing online. The upside, however, is that with available technology, we now have the access and capacity to more closely monitor our children's devices either through useful apps or simply being physically nearby to hear and see what is going on — something that used to be impossible when children were at school, at bus stops or friends' homes.

What are some of the effective apps that you use to monitor your children's devices? Send an e-mail to

Mother of four girls, Shelly-Ann Harris is author of God's Woman , president & founder of Family and Faith Magazine, and a media, communication, change management professional. Connect with her on Twitter @Harrisshellyann




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