An Ear for the Language

When I think about TV influencing my children, I think about Rose seeing objectified, emaciated, air-brushed women and thinking she should look like them. I do not think that, while watching “Suburgatory,” Rose will learn new vocabulary, but she does.

This week, when I went to pick Rose up from preschool, Rose’s teacher took me aside to say that Rose got a time-out for calling her friend a “biotch.” She assured me that the friend didn’t hear Rose correctly and thus didn’t get upset or worse, learn the word from Rose. I told her teacher that Rose learned the word from TV and we’ve been trying to stop her from using it. Her teacher told her that they don’t use that word in preschool. I said the same thing in the car, and added, “Your friend’s moms won’t want you to come over for playdates if you talk that way.” The next day in school, Rose said “biotch” again for another time-out.

We do not swear around the kids. We don’t even swear when they’re not around. We used to, but we worked very hard to stop and find new words to express dismay or frustration or damnation. I even wrote an article on how to stop swearing for a parenting magazine. So I should be an expert at keeping these words from Rose’s vocabulary, right?

Rose watches TV with us at night. She doesn’t go to bed until nine, and we don’t want to watch “Sleeping Beauty” all the time, so she watches our shows. I didn’t worry about the TV shows influencing her because all the jokes and sexual innuendos went over her head. Until now. She still doesn’t get the sexual references, but she sure does pay attention to new words.

Last week she asked me, “Are you British?”

I said no. She said, “’Cause you’re sexy.”

Oh crap, I thought, she got that from “2 BrokeGirls” when Max complained that her crush’s girlfriend was British and sexy. Crap.

“We don’t say that,” I said calmly. “Sexy” isn’t a bad word, but it is for a four-year-old. No more “2 Broke Girls” for us.

She gleans words from shows and movies we don’t even think about. We watched “Dodge Ball” last weekend and she loved it. It’s a pretty tame movie, at least one where all the references go over her head. The references weren’t a problem, but two days later she said, over and over, “Lesbian, lesbian, lesbian,” and then she tried it in the car, “That guy’s a lesbian.”

At least “lesbian” isn’t a bad word for anyone. I took a different tack with this one. I said, “Rose, do you want to know what that word means?”

“What does it mean?”

“A lesbian is a woman who loves other women like Mommy and Daddy love each other.”

“Oh.” And she stopped using it. She’s very good at using new vocabulary in context, and she just didn’t have the occasion to use “lesbian.” But that doesn’t work for “sexy” or “biotch.” She can call people British ‘till the scones mold up, I don’t care.

I was so frustrated with the situation that I couldn’t even remember the tips I’d written about in my article. So I looked it up. It said that by the time children are four or five, “We don’t use that word,” should work. Not for my daughter. She thrives on the shock value and likes to seek negative attention, so telling her we don’t use a word just builds her ammunition stores.

One of the other things experts told me for my article was that when you hear a bad word the first time, you should distract the kid or convince her she’s mispronouncing it. That doesn’t work when she hears it on TV.

From now on, either she goes to bed earlier, which will never happen, or we DVR all of our shows and try to watch them in the half-hour we have together each night.

As for the vocabulary she already has, I think I’m going to take the playdate argument further. I think I’m going to tell her that I tried to arrange a playdate, but her little friends’ mom said no, because she doesn’t want her kid to learn Rose’s words. I’m gonna do it a few times, maybe five. And if that doesn’t work, maybe we’ll just ignore the words until they go away. I can only hope.