Garen wrote: While I think the word 'damn' is actually fine for 10, 11 and 12 year olds, I admit, I do not like the idea of a 7-year old going around using it as a new word they've learned from my strip.
There's your yardstick then, Garen.
I think you have to take each word you publish for kids at its most base level, and ask yourself if you'd be comfortable with your 7-year-old using it. Otherwise, you can actually find 'safe' versions of almost any word to justify its usage.
I fully understand your dilemma, and there are occasions where the word 'damn' has proved irresistible and irreplaceable in my own vocabulary, but if any of my kids had used it at the age of seven, eyebrows would have been raised. It may not be the most offensive of words around, but it's not one you want to legitimise for children, is it? I'm old enough to remember the first time the 'f' word was uttered during a live TV programme, and the furore that caused. These days, nobody bats an eyelid at its multiple use on TV, sometimes even before the Watershed, and we commonly have 'celebrity role models' using it almost as a catchphrase. I never, EVER thought I'd say this, but in respect of the 'thin end of the wedge' argument, Mary Whitehouse was actually right.
There are all kinds of arguments that could be applied to this one, revolving around freedom of speech, censorship, reflections of reality, over-protection of our kids. But really it all boils down to your own conscience....and that seven-year-old.