How to deal with…bad language

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By Sue Cowleyeducational author and trainer

Teach children how to express themselves without resorting to an unsavoury choice of words

Bad language is growing in schools

It can be hard to decide what ‘bad language’ actually is

Most teachers would agree that bad language is a growing problem in schools, and with increasingly younger children. It can be hard for teachers to decide what ‘bad language’ actually is. Indeed, the idea of what is acceptable and unacceptable language changes from year to year. A few decades ago, saying ‘bloody hell’ would have been frowned on. These days, it might happen in certain situations without us giving it a second thought. Dealing with bad language is about more than just clamping down on swearing. Instances of homophobic, racist or sexually abusive language should be treated with the same approach by schools as they adopt for instances of swearing.

1. The ‘f’ word

Swearing is fairly commonplace in modern music and films. Parental advisory stickers on CDs and age restrictions on films seek to avoid young people’s exposure to swear words. Realistically, though, we have to accept that children are likely to encounter bad language outside the school setting. Even on public service television, previously the standard bearer for good language, it is now deemed acceptable to use the ‘f’ word after the watershed. No wonder both children and adults are confused about what they can and cannot say!

2. Turning a ‘blind ear’

The severity of punishment required for bad language should vary according to the situation. If an older child curses out loud when he accidentally bangs against a desk, the teacher might decide to take a low level approach. For instance, having a quiet word about inappropriate language or even turning a ‘blind ear’. But, if the bad language is directed at another person, or if the words used cross that fine line between cursing and swearing, the teacher must of course take action.

No matter how we speak outside of school, we set a high standard for the children in our classroom and playground

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