Should children be permitted to swear?

A Washington mother tells this tale of her 2-year-old son, who grew up to be a lawyer:

The woman and her mother-in-law were sitting in the car with the boy, when he scooted over to the driver's seat to honk the horn.

"----," gurgled the little guy, a grin across his face.

"Did I really hear that?" the mother asked herself. "Did my mother-in-law hear?"

Her son honked the horn again.

"----," he giggled.

Suddenly it dawned on Mama. To the child, "----" meant honking the horn. After all, when Daddy slammed the horn that's what he always said.

Swearing among children, says University of Southern California psychologist (and expletive expert) Chaytor D. Mason, is almost inevitable. "I learned from children around me. We all learned it."

"They do it mostly because they think it's one way to act grown up. And some children begin using profanity as a form of magic. They hear Daddy use an expletive when he hurts himself, so they think such words have a special power to reduce the pain--because Daddy didn't cry."

But along the way, they begin to learn that often "doing what satisfies is at odds with society. That has a part in formulating personality. It is the beginning of the child going underground. Most children won't tell their parents how they feel."

To discipline a child for swearing, he claims, is to punish him or her for being human, and that is "cruel and immoral.

"But I do believe in guidance. Parents should advise the child to swear only with family or friends--to avoid the possibility of offending others.

"Of course, that's correct behavior for adults as well."