Listening to Bill Maher do his bit making fun of all the expletives that mistakenly don't get deleted from the voices of commentators and politicians was initially quite amusing. The videos of the shocked looks on these public figures' faces revealed not only surprise but a bit of shame. They were caught and exposed on camera making them into human beings but embarrassed ones whose exclamations weren't bleeped away. Sometimes the lack of bleeps reveals some anger prevalent in our society.
More important, however, is when a torrent of expletives slips out or pours out in households often between teenagers and their parents or between the parents themselves who forget the small children hearing every word. I don't want to overstate these occurrences, but they're worth thinking and caring about.
Teens who curse at their mothers in a blind rage, don't have time to slow down and think about what they actually want to say. It's wise to explain this to your teen. They are grateful to understand this so they can understand their cursing that they actually want to change because it shames them.
Plus, when cursing, teens don't actually get their real points across. To make matters worse, parents disarmed by the onslaught sometimes, though hopefully rarely, react in kind: " Bleep you, too!"
Regretful, remorseful, and apologetic, parent and teen both need to have a talk about what they were struggling with. But does that usually happen?
In the social media world, we communicate briefly without full sentences and offer quick letter combos (LOL) that further discourage open dialogue with any complexity. In a world chock full of anger and anxiety, this rapid fire practice of communication could lead to widespread misinterpretations and deeply hurt feelings.
Four Tips for Stepping Back
When a teen or parent feels like cursing wildly what can they do in that out-of-control mental world that seems to overpower them? Here are a few tips:
1. Find a "stop button" inside of yourself. Take your fury as a signal that you're out of control. With lots of repetition, that signal will reveal itself more often as a link to a part of yourself that learns to step back, be silent, and take no action whatsoever until you collect your thoughts.
2. At a quiet moment, advise your teenager, that he can call a friend before confronting you. With the friend's help, he might be able to clarify what's really bugging him about his parents. The friend will probably sympathize and maybe tell a few stories of his or her own that reinforce your teen's gripes.
But in doing this the teen is finding language to express himself which will lead to being able to assert his feelings to you with better results.
3. As a parent, when you feel provoked or verbally assaulted by your teenager, behind the rage that you feel instantaneously might also be some hurt. You've been working at raising this child who you love for over a decade now and this isn't the outcome you want.
It's wise to remember that there's no need to give a comeback. There are no rules about having to respond to your accuser immediately. Step back and say nothing if you're dumbfounded or just tell your teen you'll talk another time.
Then you have time to get a hold of yourself, figure out your feelings, face your demons, and consider why your child is treating you this way. Retaliation is not a choice as the adult.
Your only recourse is trying to find meaning behind your teen's behavior. The best way to do that is by talking with him or her. So when you're both settled, it's time to talk and listen. Listening means not waiting to get your turn in, but suspending judgment and encouraging your child to talk until he's finished.
4. Think of cursing as a state of mind rather than actual communication. Feelings are communicated by voice tones that piggy back on the actual content. Tones, postures, gestures that start the communication don't have to end it. They're troubling openers that have meaning to be deciphered when everyone is calm.
This is all about Stepping Back, the way to begin using what I call, Parental Intelligence. If you don't do it naturally, the great thing is that it can be learned. Once the parent learns Stepping Back, their kids learn to do it, too.
Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst who specializes in infant-parent, child, adolescent and adult psychotherapy that covers the life span. Her upcoming book, Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child's Behavior, will be released October 13, 2015. Pre-order discounts can be found on Amazon. Tweet Laurie @lauriehollmanph.