What to do when … A boy uses foul language

View a list of all the problems covered in this series.

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This situation usually catches a leader by surprise. In the middle of a hotly-contested game or during a group activity when one boy falls or makes a mistake, a choice word or two will pierce the group chatter. Other boys may pause and glance at the leader waiting for him to act. There are several types of foul language which cannot all be treated the same.

Words involving the Lord’s name

This type of “swearing” violates God’s commandment in Exodus 20:7 because it misuses the holy name(s) of God in a negative, derogatory manner. Boys who use such language must realize their disrespect for God’s character (not all boys realize this, especially if they hear this kind of swearing at home on a regular basis).

Words that are crude or filthy

These are usually related to bodily and sexual functions and represent a disrespect for the human body, one of God’s finest creations (I Cor. 6: 19). Boys often use this kind of language as a way of impressing peers that they are tough.

Words that are simply derogatory

Boys will frequently call each other names, many of which are quite demeaning and insulting. A leader must distinguish whether boys speak this way in jest or out of anger and then guide boys to more wholesome speech habits (Eph. 4:29).

What steps should a leader take?

1) When a boy is caught swearing, he should be informed that it is unacceptable to the group. A general announcement to the boy (and to the group) may be sufficient (e.g. “Tom, we don’t use words like that here in our Battalion. We consider that disrespectful to God. You will have to control your language.”) particularly if the boy does not perceive swearing as wrong. A boy who persists in swearing or who obviously knows better should be spoken to privately. Explain why the words he used are inappropriate and ask him how you can help him control his tongue.

2) Avoid displaying shock or embarrassment when you hear a boy using foul language. Act quickly, calmly and firmly. Count on the boy’s cooperation as much as you can, rather then trying to make him feel guilty. To get overly upset will only draw attention to the boy and make him a “hero” among his peers.

3) Be prepared to accept a certain degree of cutting remarks (third category above) by boys toward each other. If a boy does seem hurt by comments from others, or the level of banter becomes excessive, then step in and deal with the offenders. A quiet reminder to each boy is good for starters. An occasional Story Circle on how we are to treat each other can also be helpful.

4) Occasionally, a Brigade group will include some boys who are “tough cases” and who use foul language as a normal part of their vocabulary. They can be a negative influence on other boys and some degree of isolating them may be necessary (e.g. take them on a camping trip and cultivate a relationship with them, thus earning their respect and willingness to live by your guidelines). Encourage the more mature Christian boys to be a positive example to them.

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This series was adapted from a resource that has been used by Brigade leaders for decades.

View a list of all the problems covered in this series.

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