Thursday, February 20, 2014

My Six-Year-Old Is Learning 'Bad Language'

Something horrific happened twice this week.  Perhaps I'm being a bit melodramatic here but I'm sure a lot of you can appreciate and understand my sense of horror, especially if you consider yourselves strict grammar freaks.

Twice in the past four days, I heard my six-year-old use ain't in his sentences. You can call me a purist or a prescriptionist when it comes to grammar and I won't argue.  Just don't insist to me that using such a term is proper, let alone acceptable in my household or my family, unless of course your objective is to be disowned.  

I'm pretty sure it's now clear to my son how I feel about his use of this term. To be honest, as far as I'm concerned, it might as well have been profanity escaping his lips. With my dilated eyes, gaping mouth and then quickly followed by a resounding, "What.......!!!!!!!!", I have no doubt my disapproval left no wiggle room for misinterpetation.  And did I mention there was a long litany that followed, which I'm sure clarified my reasons just before his six-year old brain got overloaded?

First, I asked him where he learned it from.  Is he around friends from school who speak like that?  Is it a t.v. show he watches?  A song perhaps?  Or maybe a game or YouTube video game tutorial that he constantly views?  He said 'no' to all of the above and just told me he doesn't know anymore. Personally, I'm betting on the t.v.

Then, of course I had to explain my utter disapproval.  I told him that it's grammatically wrong; that instead of saying 'ain't', he needs to say 'am not', or maybe 'isn't'.  He told me that he knows all this, which all the more made it slightly unforgivable.  I told him that he does not have any excuse to not speak properly because English is his first language; we are sending him to a good school; we come from a long line of well educated people who will never tolerate such language; and that most of all, nobody in our household speaks that way.

I have no judgement of people who speak like that as long as they are either using it for some literary purpose and maybe humor, or if they have an excuse for not speaking any other way; that is to say, that it's something they grew up with or was socialized towards, and perhaps did not have the opportunity for good education.  In other words, they don't know any better.  But for years, I have taught my son to live by Maya Angelou's 'When you know better, you do better'.  He has no acceptable excuse and I expect him to do better.

I also told him that some people deliberately speak that way just because they think they're being 'cool', when in reality they just sound stupid.  That's all. And I don't want him to sound stupid because he's not stupid.  He has no excuse to not do the right thing.

You might say that I'm being too strict or unreasonable.  But I would disagree.  Grammar should be taken seriously. Language rules are there so that we can best express ourselves. Grammar is also part of one's presentation of self. One's credibility does not only begin with how one appears, but also with how one speaks.  Can you really expect to be taken seriously when you can't speak your own language properly and appropriately? Being articulate and eloquent do not only make you sound and seem pleasing. They also reflect the degree of attention to detail you give to your speech (and / or writing).  

In other words, it's a choice you make between being disciplined and being sloppy.  If I spend time teaching my child to be organized with his things, his toys, shouldn't I also apply myself to teaching him organized and disciplined thought and speech?  When I supervise my child during homework time to make sure he is not careless with answering questions, nor sloppy with his handwriting, doesn't it make sense for me to also reject sloppiness with speech or grammar in general?

I've heard time and time again that in parenting, consistency is key.  I'm a firm believer in that.  I also believe that, though it's easier to always compartmentalize, I'm afraid we can't do that with parenting or socialization. What we say and how we act are magnified in a child's eyes.  And what we try to teach in one aspect needs to carry over other areas as well in order for them to have a better shot at successfully learning something.  Most of all, most often than not, we socialize our children based on our own socialization experiences as children.  I was raised believing, among other things, that formal education is important, discipline and attention to detail are valued, and speaking 'properly' is expected.  As such, I am doing the same to my child.  Some people might perceive this is snobbish, elitist, discriminatory or all of the above.  But I'd like to point out that what I'm teaching my son are expectations or standards we have of him and ourselves, not of other people, nor the practice of judging others.  As I quoted above, when you know better, you do better.

I know that language evolves and rules do change.  But for now, I don't believe that it has changed enough for 'ain't' to be widely accepted as the right way to contract 'am not', 'is not', 'do not', etc.  It's just NOT.  Period.

Have you had similar experiences with your children?  What 'bad language' have you caught and were you able to nip it in the bud?


  1. When I saw the title I definitely thought you meant profanity and was thinking, uh oh… don't bring the boy around me! LOL

  2. It sounded like profanity to me, Kathy, hahaha! ;-))

  3. Well, it is only the start, Joy. Over here, my daughters are forgetting to pronounce the letter 't' (they say wa'er instead of water). It drives me mad. Apparently it is the London (cockney) accent.

  4. Don't worry about it Joy, ain't nothing to sweat about.


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