What Science Says About Parents Who Swear Around Their Kids

Can it really be as bad as we think it is?

Sarah Cottrell
5 min readJan 15, 2021


I’m a sweary mom. And — brace yourself here — I’m not sorry about it. The funny thing about swearing as a parent is that I never used to swear all that much until I had kids, which is a little ironic because once you have kids, you’re not supposed to swear around them. Swearing around children is taboo, after all. As a parent, you’re supposed to model the kind of behavior you want to see in your kids, and who wants to hear kids cussing?

But if we’re honest, nothing gives you more reason to curse than being a parent in the first place. I mutter some salty four-letter words under my breath several times a day but before I get judged for this, know that science is now on my side.

Profanity has some good uses.

Since humanity’s first words ever uttered, people have always set aside certain words that are considered harmful. Why? Because having forbidden words in a language serves an important function. If a bear has just mauled you — or you stepped on a frigging Lego, same diff — then screaming “oh, geez! does not have the same satisfying burst of energy as “fucking hell!”

In a 2009 study, psychologist Richard Stephens of Keele University in England led a team of researchers in a study on the impact of swearing on pain tolerance. They asked a group of college kids to submerge their hands in ice-cold water. They could either mutter a non-sweary mantra or drop as many expletives as they wished. It turned out that those who swore saw reduced pain and were able to keep their hands cold for an average of 40 seconds longer than those who held a more neutral tongue.

What was at work in the brain is something called the hypoalgesic effect. Although not thoroughly proven, the current theory is that when the brain interprets pain, it fires up the amygdala, which then slams on the flight or fight response, sending adrenaline rushing through the bloodstream and helping to reduce pain temporarily.

However, the catch is that this curious phenomenon only appears to work if you don’t swear too much. Because like all good things in life, it’s about quality over quantity.

Science also says that swearing around kids won’t harm them.



Sarah Cottrell

Writer + Editor | Slow Living + Science Nerd | Rep’d by Folio Lit | Follow my stories here: https://sarahcottrell.medium.com/membership