Parents on social media are letting their kids curse for the 'bad word bathroom challenge.' Is that a good idea?

Parents on social media are letting their kids curse as part of the
Parents on social media are letting their kids curse as part of the "bad word bathroom challenge." (Getty Images)

Growing up, my sister and I weren’t allowed to use curse words. We couldn’t even tell each other to “shut up” without getting a sideways glance from our parents (imagine our delight when Black Eyed Peas’ “Shut Up” came out!). When I saw videos of parents allowing their toddlers and preschoolers time to drop F-bombs in the bathroom, also known as the “bad word bathroom challenge,” I couldn’t help but wonder if doing so was encouraging bad behavior, or giving children a healthy outlet.

Like most parents, I’ve let the occasional curse word (or two) slip around my toddler. And, of course, she’s repeated them. I try not to laugh in the moment lest I encourage her to continue using profanity, but I have to admit there is something slightly comical (and dare I say cute?) about a pint-size human being saying "s***." What I won’t be doing, however, is posting said behavior all over Beyoncé’s internet for all the world to see (and judge). But that’s just me.

“I think it’s really hard as a young child to know, ‘it’s OK to do it here, but I can’t do it anywhere else.’ That’s a tricky concept for a 2- or 3-year-old,” says Erin O’Connor, a professor, director of New York University’s early childhood education program and chief of education at Cooper, an online parenting resource. “It’s kind of almost condoning it by having them do it in a certain space, and then putting it online adds another element to it.”

Uploading your kids’ antics to social media is par for the course in parenting nowadays, and doing so is a surefire way to build community with other parents. But, as with most things, there is a downside as well.

“It’s almost a positive reward that you’re giving children,” O’Connor says of the challenge, in which kids are given the opportunity to let profanities rip. “They love seeing themselves on camera and that acts as a positive reinforcement of that behavior.”

As for kids and cursing, it’s only a matter of time. It’s natural for them to pick up on curse words and their context as early as age 2. For the most part, the words don’t have any meaning to them and they’ll just think it’s funny to say.

But once your child reaches 3 and a half or 4, you can start having an age-appropriate conversation around language by explaining to them that curse words can hurt other people’s feelings, even if the words they’re using aren’t upsetting to them. Having them reflect on how they would feel if someone said something hurtful to them can help them be more mindful of the words they use.

Instead of punishing your child for using curse words, O’Connor recommends discouraging the behavior by not overreacting (or laughing) when it happens. To take it a step further, you can involve your child in the process and enlist them as an accountability buddy of sorts by giving them a small reward every time they hear you use a curse word.

L'Oreal Thompson Payton has advice to give. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Chuck Olu-Alabi)
L'Oreal Thompson Payton has advice to give. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Chuck Olu-Alabi)

“It’s putting them in control to an extent of how certain language is used, because it’s inevitable. We’re going to curse in front of our children,” she says. “You could say, ‘Mommy tries not to use these words as well, but sometimes they slip out. You can help me learn not to use those words just like I can encourage you not to use those words, so we’re in this together.’ It’s kind of like team building.”

Providing your child with alternative language to use is another helpful tactic in curbing cursing. Instead of the F-word, you could say "fudge" or "sugar" in place of "s***."

“Replacement can be effective because it still allows them to have some control and feel like they’re ‘doing what they want,’ but they’re not using these words we don’t want them to use,” says O’Connor.

And when you slip up (because there is no such thing as a perfect parent, believe me), remember to give yourself grace and own up to your actions.

“It’s a good learning moment for kids to see that you’re not so hard on yourself,” says O’Connor. “You could say, ‘I didn’t mean to say that. I got upset because I was driving and I was afraid we were going to get into an accident. I used a word that I shouldn’t have used, but that happens sometimes. We slip up and that’s OK.”

About Ask L’Oreal: I’m a mom, journalist, motivational speaker and the author of Stop Waiting for Perfect. You can think of me as your personal cheerleader and new mom friend who just happens to love calling up doctors and experts to help guide my answers to your questions. Reach out to me on Instagram or X (Twitter), or email with anything you want me to weigh in on.

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