Is it just me, or is profanity becoming more and more acceptable in modern culture? I’ve had a few recent conversations with middle and high school youth about why profanity is not even seen as something bad! They told me that cursing isn’t a big deal because it pales in comparison to more destructive habits, such as drug addiction or alcoholism.
The continued use of profanity can, in reality, lead to other types of destructive behavior. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in paragraph #1863: “Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin.” In other words, a constant presence of venial sin in our lives can distort our view of virtue and goodness, to the point where mortal sin doesn’t look as bad as it used to.
Here are a few tips on how to help the youth understand some boundaries for appropriate language:
- Be clear about your expectations. Ephesians 4:29 says, “No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear.” Be clear about what language is appropriate and inappropriate. Do this not for your own personal preference, but to teach the youth that what they say has an effect on those who hear it.
- Model your expectations. St. Francis of Assisi said, “It is no use preaching unless our walking is our preaching.” In other words, the expectations we give to the youth are expectations we should be following as well. These expectations should not only be followed during ministry times, but throughout our everyday lives. If you have a personal struggle with profanity or inappropriate language, this is the perfect time to challenge your own habits!
- Be conscious of inappropriate terms that are culturally relevant. Many words have obvious inappropriate meanings. But words like “gay” and “retarded” are terms that have taken on derogatory connotations due to accepted use in culture. TV shows, movies and music have a big influence on youth culture, and their blanket acceptance of crude language (and even the crude uses of everyday words) has become rampant. The popular television show “The Office” may be a clever and funny show, but it has also normalized the use of sexual references in jokes.
- Be mindful of language issues other than profanity. Setting an expectation for words used at your youth group can allow you to begin teaching the youth that how they say things has an effect on people as well. Sarcasm is everywhere in our culture, and we don’t always realize the effect it has on people. There is also a rise in comedic sexual innuendo/references in youth as well. Be sure to hold the youth accountable for all ways that they speak and treat one another.
- Focus on other respect issues as well. Remember why there is an expectation for appropriate language. Our hope should be that everything we do, speak, and think would, like St. Paul commanded in the letter to the Ephesians, impart grace to everyone we come in contact with.
Our goal is not to shame people with harsh words or make jokes at every little thing someone does or says. Our ultimate goal should be to bring all people closer to God. We have to meet the young people where they are (words and all) and lovingly call them to a higher standard.