Recently, my 5-year-old and I walked into a room full of kids playing video games at a birthday party. “You suck!” shouted one kid to another. “I’m going to kick your ass!” the kid yelled back. My son looked up at me with wide eyes — he was shocked, and I think, a bit thrilled to see bigger kids using words that he still considers taboo.

For my part, I was glad he was shocked. It hasn’t been easy keeping swearing out of my kids’ lives.

For one thing, my husband and I can let a few strong words fly when we’re frustrated or forget we’re in the company of kids. And some of the TV shows my kids watch on Saturday mornings tend to pepper the action with words like “stupid” and “jerk.”

As kids get older, they come across strong language in everything from YouTube videos to online comments. And lately, the amount of swearing on some of tweens’ and teens’ favorite TV shows seems to have bumped up a few notches. Preschool-age character Lily dropped the F-bomb (it was bleeped) on an episode of Modern Family, and The Daily Show is chock full of easily identified censored words. Parents can take advantage of these moments by explaining how shows (and other media) get attention for profanity — a strategy that’s part of selling a product.

Kids’ fascination with taboo words isn’t new, of course. Around the age of 5 or 6, most kids get a big thrill out of potty language (hello, Captain Underpants!) or any word that gets a rise out of parents. This age is a great time to help kids understand that there are places where certain language is OK (like in silly books) but not in others (like at the dinner table).

What kids intuitively understand is that words are powerful, and certain words make a big impact. My son certainly felt the impact of the language that the birthday party gamers were using. Explaining to him why the kids were using those words — to shock, to feel older, to get attention — took a bit more time.

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