14/08/2014 16:48 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Mummy, What's A Shag?

Mummy, what's a shag?

Recently social media was filled with parents watching Comic Relief with their children and complaining about the inappropriate language.

Dan Smith, tweeted: "Rowan Atkinson says 'don't shag your neighbour' and my 7 and 11yr old look at me for explanation. Thanks Comic Relief."

On Facebook, Susan Walters posted, "Watching the first hour of Comic Relief with Ben - wasn't anticipating having to explain the word 'shag!'"

Yes, as part of a sketch, Rowan Atkinson used the word 'shag' and went on to say that some people prefer to use the f-word "but God doesn't like that one." The BBC has received around 2200 complaints and, as a result, has removed the sketch from iPlayer.

Kelly Railton who works for a charity, is more shocked by the reaction than she was to the language used: "People complaining about their kids hearing the swearing... the kids of same age in Africa have HIV/AIDS, for goodness sake.

"I think it shows how desensitised we've become to these images if 'shag' shocks us more. I think people could have focussed more on the really important work that comes out of Comic Relief."

One of the tweets I saw actually suggested the money donated should be returned, suggesting Kelly may have a point.

If either of my children asked me what 'shag' meant, I would simply tell them, in the same way I'd explain if they asked "What does poverty mean?" or anything else they're going to be exposed to while watching a show like this.

I appreciate that many parents would prefer to deal with certain subjects until a time of their own choosing, rather than having the discussion forced upon them by a TV show, but wouldn't this be a good jumping off point?

Susan doesn't think so. "Ben doesn't know what sex is yet," she says. "He hasn't asked and I'm not going to explain it using a word like 'shag' as a starting point.

"I thought it was far too early for a character best known by children as Mr Bean to say the word 'shag' and refer to the f word. I foolishly assumed that a charity telethon would be appropriate for children until at least 8.30pm."

Dan agrees with Susan: "I gave my children an 'I don't know' look and left it at that. Didn't want to have to get into that conversation just then. I was surprised to hear it, I expect TV to be child-friendly before 8pm."

Father of two, Scott Pack, wasn't bothered by it, but he was surprised. He says, "Comic Relief has become hugely popular with kids over the years, if anything more so than with adults, so I was surprised at the content so early in the night. I can absolutely see how it could have made parents of younger kids uncomfortable and it could easily have been shown later in the show."

A BBC statement said that the show was 'known for pushing at the boundaries of comedy alongside heartfelt appeal films,' and apologised to any viewers they may have offended.

So if you're watching TV with your children and something comes up that you'd prefer not to explain, what do you do?

Liat Hughes Joshi, author of Raising Children, says:


I bet for most kids it just goes over their heads unless the parents react and then they pick up that it's something alluringly taboo.


"If possible don't react when something like this is on TV or overheard and see if it washes over them first.

"Assuming they do notice and ask, if they're old enough to ask then they're probably old enough for an explanation, but this needs to be age appropriate and based around what you're aware they already know. Depending on the word, you should maybe add that it's not an acceptable word for them to use.

"One caveat though is that there might be one or two things that you might prefer to gloss over and not explain (say S&M!) and then there's nothing wrong with an occasional white lie saying perhaps that you don't know what it means yourself. Of course the danger is nowadays that older children will just go and google the term concerned..."