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Young students call for anti-swearing measures in schools

Children are using more curse words than before, but many young people consider it crude.

Schoolchildren Oskari Veijalaisen and Emmi Laulaisen say that older students 'curse all the time'. Image: Toni Pitkänen / Yle

Students in the first grades of the Nilakka school in Keitele made a request in early 2020 that older students should swear less.

The youngest pupils in the school say swearing sounds ugly and makes them feel bad. Even very small children hear swearing everywhere they go.

Principal Ville Ahonen said the school administration took on the task immediately, even starting an anti-swearing campaign lasting all through the spring.

"There is far too much cussing, with words that are too graphic," Ahonen said.

Decorum forgotten

Teachers across the country have noticed and reported that children are swearing increasingly often. Teachers' union OAJ said that the internet and social media are among the culprits for the development. Common courtesy and rules of politeness are also less commonly taught to Finnish children at home.

Ugly language is a problem that is spreading.

"Quite young kids are also using very strong language now," OAJ expert Pauliina Viitamies said.

Principal Ahonen has taught school since the early 1990s, and said that curse words are now far more commonly used in place of punctuation or pauses.

"Children used to say sorry when a curse slipped out. Not anymore," he said.

Noora Koponen from the University of Eastern Finland is preparing her master's thesis on the topic of childhood obscenity; she gathered her data using a broad questionnaire.

Noora Koponen's thesis concerns the language habits of children. Image: Ari Haimakainen / Yle

The study corroborated the finding that teenagers typically punctuate their spoken language with curses. Young people themselves said that "every other word" they hear around them is a swearword.

"Analysis of the new corpus is still underway, but the curse word that is used most is vittu, by far," said Koponen, referring to the Finnish vulgarity describing a female's reproductive anatomy.

She said teens themselves report picking up the cursing habit from YouTube stars and the gaming world.

Role models important

Secondary schoolers Ossi Vuorela and Miska Paananen from the Keitele comprehensive school admitted that they use dirty words every day. They both said they consider swearing to be an ugly habit and a bad example for younger kids.

Many youngsters in Koponen's thesis described their swearing in the same way.

Swearing occurs the most within groups of friends, both in school and out.

"I don't really want to curse, but it just comes naturally," Vuorela said.

Public cursing became a topic of heated online discussion last week when Minister of Education Li Andersson accused Finns Party leader Jussi Halla-aho of "shit-talking" (paskapuhe) during a live broadcast of Yle politics programme A Studio.

Minister of Education and Culture Li Andersson said she would not make cursing a habit. Image: Toni Pitkänen / Yle

Halla-aho claimed on the show, during a question on government climate measures, that the politics of the so-called "green left" (vihervasemmisto) would lead to many rural areas of Finland becoming uninhabitable – with which Andersson took umbrage.

"Certainly all decision-makers in various positions act as role models for others, whether that person is a minister or not," Andersson said.

She said that all public figures have a responsibility to uphold an atmosphere of healthy discussion, and to take care how to behave in public discourse.

"I used a strong word in that situation, where I was aggravated by the use of false and inaccurate information. But I will not make it a habit," Andersson said.

Kind words create security

When students of the Nilakka school were asked about the things that make it a nice place to be, speaking kindly to others was in the top three. The anti-swearing campaign aims to tackle this concern head-on.

Students of all ages consider the Nilakka campaign a positive development.

The principal said that speaking kindly is about respecting others. That is what more children and teenagers need to be taught.

"Cursing can be a joke among buddies, but it can hurt the feelings of someone outside the group," said Ahonen.