Hard Words

The language teenage girls hear spoken by their peers, whether in movies, music lyrics, school hallways or buses, can be disturbing or even truly hurtful. That’s because many teens are using not just expletives, but also terms that are sexually tinged, vulgar and undeniably cruel. For example, girls in middle school and high school report hearing daily comments such as, “Move your big, fat ass,” “Jesus loving whore,” “Lazy bitch” and many others. These remarks may be said casually, angrily or in the guise of “just kidding around.” Either way, girls are understandably distressed and unsure how to react.

If your daughter asks you outright, “What does ‘ho’ or ‘slut’ mean?” she is inviting discussion. If not, don’t assume she hasn’t heard these words. More likely, she is keeping silent to avoid upsetting you. So raise this issue with her. Try commenting, “I’ve heard that some girls are being called ugly, insulting names. Has this ever happened to you?” Teach her that using profanity is not always a harmless way of acting grown up, but rather can be a form of verbal abuse that demeans girls. Help her to recognize the hurtfulness and disrespect inherent in such hard words.

Since you can’t change what your daughter hears in her world, much as you would like, insure that she knows you find such language unacceptable. You may need to repeat this message over and again. If she insists hard words are commonplace, remind her, “Just because ‘everybody’ says it, doesn’t make it okay.” Model using appropriate language, and set clear limits on what you will tolerate in your home. In this way, you are giving your daughter an alternate way of interpreting harsh language that’s directed toward her: “There’s nothing wrong with you; the problem is what you’re hearing.”

Along with a clear sense of propriety and self-respect, arm your daughter with tools to protect herself from abusive comments. Suggest that she reply firmly, “Don’t talk to me like that!” or “That’s really rude!” Teach her to recognize, as well, when hard language becomes harassment. Like all teenage girls, she has a right to expect others to treat her with dignity and respect at all times.

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