Sex and Swearing for Seven-year-olds

This week the BBC reported the flooding of YouTube with pornographic films.  ‘Flonty’ of 4Chan explained the raid as a protest. Revealing that this 21 year old and his colleagues would splice sexually explicit material into Hannah Montana and Jonas Brothers videos – they were clearly targeting pre-pubescent girls who are not exactly in charge of the music download industry.

I was particularly interested by the subsequent comments. Some felt that it was no big deal because “kids need to learn how they get here” whereas others felt censorship was necessary to protect children. Now as a writer, and as a human being, I have a problem with censorship. I’m not happy about state or other control BUT just because you can doesn’t mean that you should. I’m an idealist I know, but I like more self-restraint, more discernment. There are better ways of explaining procreation.

As a true daughter of Seventies feminism (there, that’s me out of that particular closet) I  detest the exploitation of women’s bodies in porn. Teenage girls in the West seem to have won the right to look like tarts. It’s pure commercialisation and I loathe it: I have some sympathy with my Moslem compatriots.

So I’m not likely to write a sex-and-shopping bestseller  then. 

Back to the fecking swearing. I get annoyed, frustrated and eventually dissuaded from participating by inane comments on YouTube and anywhere else full of swearwords. I don’t want to see foul language printed on t-shirts stretched across some beer belly or on some moronic greetings card, never mind the kids. When did it become acceptable to eff and blind in front of people in the street? It’s the same in print on display.

 I know people have always done it. I was that teenager who thought it was cool and grown-up to let fly – but I’ve grown out of that now. Mostly. As for writing it, yes,  I had that adolescent idea that you should be realistic and it’s what people say and it’s OK.

Well, it isn’t.

As more and more coarseness becomes acceptable, it becomes necessary to go further to rebel. Then we seem to move the boundaries back, and our civilisation becomes debased. ‘Snob’ – that’s the accusation I have to answer. I was taught, and I still believe, that there are more creative ways of getting your message across, that resorting to swearing shows a paucity of vocabulary  and wit.

Now to children’s books. As a primary  teacher for well over a decade, I was often asked to recommend reading, in particular for able children. There was then and still is now , a dearth of books for young  children of very high reading ability. It’s no good putting them on older children’s books – they are not emotionally ready. I could not in all conscience recommend ‘Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging’ to a six year old no matter how advanced her vocabulary. There comes a point where they’ve read all the relevant classics – then what? Our lovely Mr Pratchett was handy for some – but with a lot of other material I’d have parents going ballistic. What a shame.

So finally, what I’m saying is that including swear words and explicit sex in children’s books can be a cheap way to ‘relate to the kids’. There are better ways to engage with your readership than writing like a MTV pop promo.

Though I reserve the right to swear like a squaddie on a Saturday night in Catterick if I trap my finger in the car door.

9 thoughts on “Sex and Swearing for Seven-year-olds

  1. I think you exaggerate the amount of sex and swearing in children’s books – they are a far milder form of entertainment than many other media and publishers are still rather chary of even “appropriate” language. Just compare a YA book for 15 year-olds and a 15 rated movie and you’ll see what I mean.

    I agree about T-shirt slogans and greeting cards though – it really isn’t big or clever, just rather sad and unimaginative. I remember seeing a birthday card where the slogan read “Happy Birthday, you c***!” Where can you go from there?

    • Fair comment, Nick 1. I was stirring, 2. I was coming at it from the point of view of bright younger children and their parents.
      Point taken.

  2. As someone who has a child enthraled by Angus and his thongs, and the J Wilson shenanigans, I just wish there were books aimed at her with ordinary families in the plot.
    Surely the 2 parent, 2.4 kid and family dog situation is still the norm? Every other book is about abused mums, disabled lesbians, my 2 dads etc and full of smut and inuendo.
    It’s hard enough worring about what she hears in the playground, but in the safety of her own bedroom???

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