I was talking with a dear friend the other day. She shared how a coworker made a thoughtless comment using a word as slang in a way that was hurtful to my friend. I don’t know the coworker, but from the story I’m pretty sure that she didn’t even think about what she said. If she’d stopped for a moment and thought about what she said, she’d have chosen another way to make her point. I’ve purposefully worked to teach my children to be aware of words that are used as slang in a hurtful way. I want my children and myself to think before we speak and not to unthinkingly use hurtful slang words.
There are two ways to hurt someone verbally – intentionally and unintentionally. I’ve taught my children not to use words to intentionally hurt someone. But children often don’t understand the meaning behind popular slang terms used by other children. This is the situation where it’s important for parents to step in and teach their children why that particular word or phrase doesn’t just mean “dumb” (which has lost its original meaning over time, but would have been on the unintentionally hurtful slang list in the past) or something you don’t like, but has another meaning that could hurt someone’s feelings and for that reason we don’t want to use that hurtful slang word.
Teach Your Child Not to Use Hurtful Slang Words
Slang words that can be unintentionally hurtful
(This has been difficult for me to write. My mama’s heart is breaking for all the people hurt by slang that is thoughtlessly thrown around. My heart is also breaking for the times in the past that I thoughtlessly threw slang terms like these around. But I think it’s important for parents to educate themselves and their children, so here we go.)
“Throw like a girl” or “Run like a girl” – It implies that there is something wrong or inferior with the way that girls run or throw. What you really mean is, “needs to work on throwing or running skills.”
“That’s so gay.” (said derisively) – It is insulting to gay individuals (whom you may know and may be family or friends) and the entire gay community. What you really mean is “I don’t like that.”
One of my children came home from school in 3rd grade and said something was “gay” when she meant pointless or that she didn’t like it. I asked her what “gay” meant. She told me it meant “stupid or silly (since we didn’t use the word stupid in our family).” I explained to her that although other kids were using it that way, that was not what the word meant. I explained the meaning in a way that was appropriate for her age and then explained that the way she had used it as slang could hurt someone’s feelings. I told her that we had dear friends that were gay and that she wouldn’t want to unintentionally hurt their feelings. (When she asked me who the friends were, I told her that wasn’t important and not my place to share with her, but what was important was that she wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.) We brainstormed other ways she could express when she didn’t like something, ways that wouldn’t unintentionally hurt someone.
“You’re a fag.” – It is insulting to homosexual men. What you really mean is “You’re acting in an unlikable way” or “You’re a goofball.”
“What a retard” or “That’s so retarded” – It is insulting to individuals who are mentally challenged. What you mean is “That’s not something I like.” Whenever I hear someone use this slang term, my heart breaks for the innocent indivuals that might overhear and be broken-hearted from a thoughtless, hurtful phrase.
“That test raped me” or “I raped that test” – What is meant is that the test “bested me or I aced the test”, but it trivializes a traumatizing act of brutality.
“I want to die” as in “I was so embarrassed I wanted to die” – What’s meant is that the event or feeling was extreme, but again this use trivializes a traumatizing event for families and friends impacted by suicide.
“Man up” – Implies that you have to behave like a “man” in stereotypical “manly” ways. What is meant is “do what needs to be done.”
“That’s so ghetto” or “That’s so trailer park” – It’s insulting and perpetuate stereotypes. What is meant is that is cheap looking or not something you like.
“What a spaz” or “How spastic” – It’s insulting to the mentally challenged. This slang phrase has lost much of its meaning in the US (in the same way that “dumb” has), but in other countries it is still highly insulting. There really is no reason to use this slang phrase when you could just as easily use other words.
There are many more words that are hurtful, the N-word, the B-word, the T-word and more. More importantly than attempting to list them all, I think it’s important for parents to take the time to examine their own language and slang use. The words and language you choose are a model for your children. Set a good example for your children first and foremost. Then when your children come home from school using a hurtful slang word, you can calmly use the moment to teach your children to think about what their words mean and the unintentional hurt those words can cause. It’s a perfect opportunity for teaching empathy.
It’s also important to take teachable moments in your life and in popular culture to share how to be kind and inclusive. With Caitlyn Jenner so visible in the media right now, it’s a perfect time to talk with your children and teach them to be kind and inclusive. Always, consider your child’s age and developmental stage when discussing topics, but children are never too young to learn to be kind.
There are amazing resources available to help you and your child think about and discuss how to not unintentionally use hurtful slang words. Instead of being unintentionally hurtful, let’s be intentionally kind and inclusive and teach our children to be the same.
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I’m a mom of 3, a veteran and military spouse. I’ve moved into 20+ homes all around the world. My passion is helping busy people make the space and time for what’s really important to them.