London - My son’s face had reddened to the tips of his ears. “Did you hear what that baby said?” he whispered, embarrassed that such a word had slipped from the cherubic lips of the toddler in the pushchair close to us on the bus.
I had heard it, too, along with most of the passengers. It was the F-word, and as it rang out loud and clear, everyone fell silent, waiting for the admonishment that would surely be forthcoming from the child’s mother.
None came. Instead, her chubby-cheeked toddler continued dispensing his choice vocabulary to his brother - a child of seven or eight, whose own vernacular was similarly littered with profanities.
The older boy had been teasing the toddler, who was deploying his litany of swear words to tell him to go away.
Around me, passengers raised their eyebrows at each other, and the elderly people shook their heads. None of them dared say anything - in the way we would have done had it been a bunch of teenagers mouthing off on the back seats. Instead, we feared the undoubted abuse we would get from the mother if we questioned her parenting skills.
Eventually, she did tell both boys to stop - not swearing but bickering. The older boy called her a name usually reserved for female dogs. She retaliated by calling him a four- letter word beginning with “s”.
When they eventually got off the bus, everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief. A low rumble of conversation about “foul mouths” reverberated around the vehicle.
My 11-year-old son, who was travelling with me from our West London home to a local shopping centre, had watched the scene unfold with wide-eyed wonder. “Why were they allowed to say that?” he asked, shocked that children younger than him were swearing at their mother.
“Some parents just don’t care,” I murmured.
People who let their children behave like that don’t care about the feelings of those who have to listen to them, and they certainly don’t care about how their children are perceived.
Don’t get me wrong, I can swear like a trooper when someone cuts me off in the traffic or when I stub my toe on my desk in the office. But never in front of my child or anyone else’s. My son has always known that swearing is strictly off-limits.
Sadly, many moms and dads do not feel the same way, and I know from talking to friends that my experience is not an isolated one. Just this week, the spectacle of a child swearing like an adult has been attracting viewers to a video on the internet. Some feckless parent saw fit to post footage of their innocent-looking daughter, who must be about three, cussing like a docker after taking part in the popular ice-bucket challenge.
Never mind the mentality that thinks drenching small children with ice-cold water is entertaining and worth sharing with strangers online - it’s the child’s unabashed foul language that truly jolts.
The amusement some parents take in their pint-sized offspring uttering profanities is shocking. A few weeks ago, I heard a mom and dad giggling in the supermarket as their pre-schooler, in the seat of their trolley, used a disgusting phrase when the dad tickled him. The father was so pleased with his son’s language skills that he encouraged him to say it again. On another occasion, I heard a woman saying to her little boy: “Tell Auntie Carol what you just called me.” The women then collapsed into giggles as the boy repeated for their entertainment a disgusting, derogatory phrase.
Given the language some parents use in front of their children, is it any wonder they think it’s perfectly all right to say the same back?
During the summer, I even heard a mother calling her son the C-word - probably the most foul swear word there is - as he misbehaved in our local park. She didn’t flinch when he called her the same.
After chatting about this to my friends, opinion seems to be divided, in terms of whether adults should swear in front of their children, and whether it is ever funny or excusable for a child to do so.
My son’s godmother admits she “loves a swearing baby”. Other friends share my view - it is never amusing, regardless of the circumstance.
One colleague told me of her horror when an acquaintance boasted how she’d taught her little girl to say “p*** off”. Why would any parent make a point of teaching their little one to swear? Surely, as moms and dads, we want our children to be complimented on their good manners and behaviour when they’re out, not looked upon as guttersnipes?
I can remember how embarrassing it was when my own son would say something “as he saw it” (as children do) when he was a toddler.
In the changing rooms at the swimming pool, he once asked: “Why does that lady have such a big bottom?” Similarly, he was transfixed by a train passenger with an enormous nose, and asked why it was so large. I was mortified and swiftly told him it was never acceptable to make personal comments.
But if he’d blurted out an obscenity, I would have been beyond embarrassed, not to mention left feeling like the worst parent in the world.
After all, when you hear a child swearing, you can’t help but judge. Obviously, older children will pick words up from school and friends. But anything a toddler utters comes from copying and repeating. And it says an awful lot about the home life of a pre-schooler who has a sizeable vocabulary of obscenities before they’ve even learned their ABCs.
Thankfully, I can’t recall my son ever uttering a swear word. I am not naive enough to think that will continue. However, no matter how old he is, my house rules will remain the same: I will not tolerate my child swearing.
Even at 41, I wouldn’t dream of letting slip a profanity in front of my own parents.
Of course, sometimes a child will unwittingly pick up on a word they are not supposed to use and repeat it - but surely parents should be gently pointing out to them that it is not acceptable and they must never say it again?
How shameful that some moms and dads encourage it for their amusement or, worse, film their child using foul language and plaster it all over the internet, as is the case with the poor ice-bucket challenge girl.
As the number of people viewing the video climbs, it’s clear some sad, needy and attention-seeking parents enjoy a little bit of glory - even if it’s as a result of their child’s potty mouth. - Daily Mail