The impact of the f-word and other profanities on Australian children has lessened over time, according to generational experts.
What once would have caused gasps and giggles in the playground now barely raises an eyebrow, with children exposed to expletives from the media and society from an early age, according to social researcher Mark McCrindle.
“The standard of behaviour and language monitoring has changed, along with the acceptability of profanities,” he said.
The CEO of McCrindle Research told The Newsroom today’s parents had less control over what their children were accessing online, where uncensored material was available 24/7.
“In the modern world, mediums of communication and pop culture have become more extensive and easier for children to access as opposed to the previous generation,” he said.
“[Society faces] new challenges in the area of profanity regarding young people because of the access to screens and entertainment.
“The world of social media has exposed people to a lot more swearing. As well we must consider social context, as people who may not swear all the time when they are physically with others, may swear through social media.”
However whether profanities are something society needs to be concerned about is up for debate.
In October this year, Sydney Magistrate Geoffrey Bradd dismissed charges of offensive language against a group of same-sex marriage supporters who chanted “fuck Fred Nile” and referred to members of his Christian Democratic Party as “fuckers” at a Belmore Park rally in November last year. The rally, organised by activist group Community Action Against Homophobia (CAAH), was protesting against an anti same-sex marriage march organised by the CDP and Christian group Unity Australia.
The trio was charged by police, who the court heard were concerned that families were in the park and the f-word was “not part of a child’s vernacular”.
However Mr Bradd dismissed the charges against Ms April Holcombe and Mr Patrick Hildehand on the basis that the words were not offensive in context. He said the word “fuck” was only offensive if it was “calculated to wound the feelings, arouse anger or resentment or disgust and outrage in the mind of a reasonable person”.
Mr Bradd also said whether the word fuck was part of a child’s vernacular “depends on the words that a child listens to from others”.
Buzzfeed Australia’s political editor, Mark Di Stefano, also believes swearing has become the norm, especially when writing on social media, as journalists have “started to report in ways that real people actually talk and communicate”.
“Sometimes dropping a ‘shit’ or a ‘fuck’ can actually add colour to your copy. Also why not write FFS (for fucks sake) or STFU (shut the fuck up)? That’s how people communicate with each other on the internet,” he told The Newsroom.
The well established journalist also said Buzzfeed Australia had a recent debate with Buzzfeed US about the use of the word “cunt” in their copy.
“In Australia, we argued, it is much more laconic and blunted by casual use. In the US, they were horrified,” Di Stefano said.
So where do we draw the line?
A recent social media marketing tactic from an anonymous group called NT Official (which has no relation to Northern Territory tourism) created the eye catching slogan “CU in the NT” to generate tourism attention among younger audiences. It appeared to have worked with the post causing a stir on social media and being shared internationally in record numbers.
— Mashable (@mashable) November 7, 2016
Sydney teacher Tracy Newlands told The Newsroom that modern day media has “almost no censorship [as] swearing is rarely ‘bleeped’ on radio and never on social media, and therefore is accessible to all ages”.
“Children do swear more now because of the normalisation of swearing,” she said.
However Ms Newlands also believes children’s swearing is not linked with the actual meaning of the words “and so becomes a meaningless verbal ejaculation”.
Swearing is also used to appeal to Australians in modern day media in forms of anger, sarcasm or comedy. Huffington Post writer and part-time comedian Gregor Smith claims that writing online is his input to social media, and not “professional media” therefore he uses profanities “to be sociable, and sometimes, as it does in real life, that involves swearing”.
Full-time nanny Andrea Savage who moved to Australia from the UK told The Newsroom that swearing is “a very Australian thing as I remember noticing that more kids (and adults) swear here than in the UK”.
“I think swearing has become more acceptable now; when we would swear [as kids] we would get a clip around the ears.” – Story and photo by Fern McNulty