How Can Bad Language Affect Behavior?

By Kristine Tucker
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Bad or inappropriate language can negatively affect children and teenagers because it often encourages disrespectful speech. That doesn't mean children and teenagers can't watch age-appropriate movies or play age-appropriate video games that contain some foul language, but parents should have open discussions about what is unacceptable. Children and teens should be encouraged not to use vulgar language that is offensive, sexist, racist or demeaning. Learning to use appropriate language will help them get through childhood and adolescence with fewer offensive confrontations.


Some children and teenagers are likely to feel agitated and respond to situations aggressively when they experiment with bad language and use it themselves. "Profanity is like a stepping stone and when youth try profanity for themselves, it can start a downward slide toward more aggressive behavior," says Brigham Young University researcher Sarah Coyne in an article on the subject on the Live Science website. Just hearing curse words, demeaning comments and harsh language doesn't necessarily mean a youth will experience angry thoughts or aggression. However, children and teens who actually use profane or vulgar language themselves might be more likely to exhibit aggressive or violent behavior. Coyne also states that men use swear words more frequently than women, often among themselves. This misguided attempt to be macho could pose a negative influence on teen boys, potentially resulting in increased vulgarity and aggression.


Bad language and disrespect often go hand-in-hand. Children and teens who use foul language with peers often bring that type of language into their homes, resulting in disrespectful conversations with parents and siblings. Parents must establish household rules that forbid disrespectful language. If your child uses bad language, enforce appropriate consequences, such as making him apologize to the family member, taking away TV or Internet privileges or grounding him for a couple of days. You can’t control language outside your home, but you can create and maintain a reasonably wholesome atmosphere within, suggests Dr. Sylvia Rimm on her website at

Increased Frequency

Bad language affects behavior because it often leads to increased use of vulgar or profane words. Children and teens aren't necessarily using worse swear words than in past generations, but they are using common swear words more frequently, according to psychology professor Timothy Jay's comments at the Sociolinguistics Symposium, as reported in an article on on the Psych Central website. Although there are over 70 different swear words in the English language, 10 frequently used words account for over 80 percent of common vulgarity, according to the site. Teens are easily influenced by celebrities, who often use foul language in movies, song lyrics, TV shows, video games and sports interviews. Some teenagers become desensitized to bad language and model what they hear, forgetting that it's inappropriate for most conversations.

Parental Influence

Parents play a big role in helping their children maintain positive language habits, even though parents and kids will likely slip up from time to time. Nearly two-thirds of adults that have rules about their children swearing at home break their own rules on a regular basis, reports Jay. Parents can help their kids navigate childhood and the teen years by using wholesome language themselves. If you mess up and use bad language, apologize and say, "I shouldn't have said that word. That was wrong."

About the Author

As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.