Q&A: Questions and Answers
November 1988

“Q&A: Questions and Answers,” New Era, Nov. 1988, 17

Questions and Answers

Answers are intended for help and perspective, not as pronouncements of Church doctrine.

I have a problem with swearing. At home I talk like a good Mormon, but at school I swear a lot. At first I did it to be cool. Now it’s a habit. The words just seem to come on their own, especially when I’m playing sports or working on a car or doing something that can be frustrating. How do I clean up my mouth?

New Era Answer:

As you have pointed out, swearing is a habit. And like any habit, it can be very difficult to break! Your success will ultimately depend on one thing alone—your desire to change your behavior.

Ask yourself this question: Do I really want to change? Do I really want to stop swearing? Unless your answer is a strong yes you won’t succeed—even if you know you should stop swearing. This is because breaking any habit such as overeating, smoking, or procrastinating takes a lot of work. Just asking Heavenly Father to help you stop, without any effort on your part, won’t do the trick. On the other hand, if you really want to succeed, you will! Other young men and women have, and so can you. Here are some suggestions that may help you.

1. Make a pact with someone. Do you know someone else who wants to quit swearing, too? Then make a deal with each other. Promise one another you’ll try to stop swearing and then report to one another on your progress on a regular basis (daily or weekly)—whatever works best for you. Sharing your feelings with someone who has the same problem you do can be very useful. You can encourage and give each other fresh ideas that will help you both succeed!

2. Make goals and reward yourself. You can do this with your partner or by yourself. Instead of saying, “I’ll never swear again as long as I live,” set a series of short-range goals. Tell yourself, “I won’t swear during P.E. class today.” Set up a personal rewards system. If you don’t swear during class, treat yourself to something afterwards—a candy bar, a shake, a walk in the park with your dog. If you go for an entire week without swearing during P.E., treat yourself to something bigger—a movie, a long bike ride with a friend, dinner, whatever you choose! The point is to develop daily, weekly, and monthly goals and then reward yourself whenever you meet one of your goals.

3. Substitute. Think of words and phrases you can use instead of swear words. This is something you’ll want to consider beforehand so that you’ll be prepared when a situation in which you usually swear arises. You can substitute less offensive slang words, for example, or you can be original and come up with some new terms of your own! Elder Boyd K. Packer has suggested memorizing the words to a favorite inspirational hymn and using those words to replace unworthy thoughts whenever they try to enter your mind (see Ensign, Jan. 1974, p. 28).

4. Visualize. It helps some people to “visualize” or see themselves changing their own behavior. Take a deep breath. Close your eyes. Imagine yourself playing sports or working on the car or doing any of the things that usually cause you to swear. Now see yourself refusing to swear. Focus on how terrific you feel about yourself at that moment. Enjoy how successful you are. You can do this exercise any time, although many people find that doing it right before they fall asleep is particularly helpful.

Try any one or a combination of these techniques and see what happens. Remember to give yourself enough time to change your behavior. Understand that you will have days when you seem to make no progress at all. But don’t give up! And don’t forget the power of fasting and prayer. You want to change—and you will.

Good luck!

Youth Answers:

I had the same problem once. The way that I quit was this: I had a friend hit me in the shoulder as hard as he could every time I swore. I quit real fast.

Wade Sandberg, 17
Grantsville, Utah

Talk with your parents and your bishop. They will help you stop.

Todd Miller, 16
Mesa, Arizona

Wash your mouth out with soap every time you swear.

Jason Miller, 15
Mesa, Arizona

Whenever you start swearing, stop and take a deep breath and think of something else to say. Also, if you want to quit that badly, stay away from people who swear so you won’t feel like you have to swear to be accepted.

Karalynn Spencer, 17
Bountiful, Utah

Don’t give up. There’s always hope! In fact, you have already taken your first step in the right direction by recognizing your bad habit and realizing when you do it. Here are my suggestions for the next steps you can take.

Make up words or phrases to take the place of your swear words, and use them instead of the bad words. My favorites are “lollipop,” “bree,” or “fiddlesticks.” Even better are phrases like “blue cheese dressing” or “donut crumbs.” After you use those phrases for a while, you can also realize how silly it is to get worked up over little things. I mean, it would sound pretty silly if you yelled “Donut crumbs!” every time you missed a shot in basketball. But I must admit, donut crumbs sounds much better than some of those other phrases some kids use.

Just keep in mind, however, not to let small things get your goat and cause you to swear. Keep a cool head. It takes more courage to be refined in this day and age than to be unrefined and low class. And if something really gets you frustrated, well, check yourself, go home, and eat some donut crumbs.

Jenny Stanley, 17
Salt Lake City, Utah

I used to have the same problem. I swore because it made me feel like I really belonged and was “cool.” I finally decided that I didn’t like my language and really wanted to change, but it was truly a hard habit to break. I think the best way to do it is one day at a time. Set a goal to make it through one day without swearing. Whenever the urge comes to swear, replace the foul word with a creative one. After you’ve done it for a few days in a row, try setting the goal for a week’s period of time. If you really work hard, praying for help and strength, I know you can overcome the habit. GOOD LUCK! It’s worth it because you’ll feel a lot better about yourself.

Name withheld

Surround yourself with friends who don’t swear. It seems that you’re a victim of peer pressure. If you can’t convince your friends to stop swearing and are still influenced by them, get some different friends. Then you need to think clean thoughts. If you are constantly thinking of good things it will be easier to stop.

Don Thornton, 17
Grantsville, Utah

Have a swearing jar and put a quarter in it every time you swear. Then contribute the money to something needful in your community.

Kirk Adams, 15
Mesa, Arizona

I see you don’t swear at home because of your parents. You love and respect them and know they will be disappointed in you. If you could just live each day knowing that Christ, who loved you enough to die for you, is standing near and hears all that you say, I know you would watch your mouth.

Lisa Seljaas, 17
Bountiful, Utah

Pray for help from the Lord! He really can help you. Put a reminder on your finger or a paper in your pocket to remind you.

Larson Alder, 17
Bountiful, Utah

I know it’s hard. I had that very problem. Try hanging around people who don’t swear. And then continually keep your mind on what you say. Also have people hit you if you swear. Believe me, after a few bruises you’ll stop swearing or at least limit yourself. But, hey, just cutting down is a start.

Scott Foster, 16
Bountiful, Utah

Get a friend to try to stop swearing with you. If there are two people working together on almost anything, it will be easier to stop. The two of you can remind each other when one of you slips and swears. You can set a one-week goal to hold your swearing down to a certain number of slips each week. Each week cut down the number of goofs, and eventually you will quit. Don’t hang around people who swear, and if someone does, tell them not to.

Dan Hibbert, 15
Bountiful, Utah

I understand your problem and how you got into it. You probably keep swearing because the people you’re around do too. Maybe you should talk and all agree to try to stop. My seminary teacher told us once that when we have bad feelings and thoughts to have a scripture or song memorized and go over it to take the thoughts away. So when you’re frustrated, have a song or scripture to go over. Then swearing won’t come so easily to mind. Good luck!

Vickie Young, 15
Grantsville, Utah

If I had a problem with swearing I would try to increase my vocabulary to the extent that I wouldn’t need to express myself with such colloquial terms.

Jeff Spiers, 16
Mesa, Arizona

Hang around people who don’t swear.

LaMont Packer, 15
Mesa, Arizona

Try reading your scriptures for ten minutes each day, and if you aren’t saying your prayers, then start. Ask for help and strength to resist the temptation to swear. If your friends have the same problem, then don’t be afraid to approach them. If they don’t think that it’s a problem, then maybe you should consider associating with some other kids. Don’t let peer pressure overrule your beliefs and feelings.

Tiffany Stookey, 17
Grantsville, Utah

First you’ll have to have a desire to quit. I’m a convert, and before I joined the Church I had this problem myself. After being baptized, I got a strong feeling of meekness, so I pulled the swearing down to zero. But my resolution started wearing thin as I continued being exposed to the world. At that point I had to remind myself that our Savior was always with me. I was his host, and I resolved to do my best not to offend him by my language.

Jeffry Adams, 17
Salt Lake City, Utah

You need to work hard to replace those words. Maybe you should try to memorize a Church hymn or song. Every time you feel upset, then think of that hymn, for God cannot dwell in an unworthy place. Maybe with your thoughts toward Christ you won’t be able to swear. You can kick this habit.

Melissa Mercer, 17
Bountiful, Utah

Photography by Craig J. Moyer