Comedian Stephen Colbert offended viewers when he ripped into President Trump during a monologue on his late-night television talk show. Social media blew up, people arguing that his comments were homophobic, crude, and overly aggressive.

Stephen Colbert was unapologetic beyond claiming,

So, while I would do it (rip into President Trump) again, I would change a few words that were cruder than they needed to be. Now I’m not going to repeat the phrase, but I just want to say, for the record, life is short, and anybody who expresses their love for another person in their own way, is to me, an American hero.”

Stephen Colbert is protected by the First Amendment of the United States which says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

In other words, Stephen Colbert and all of us here in the U.S.A. have the right to express any opinions without censorship or restraint. We have free speech. 

In countries like Thailand, Iran, Turkey, Zimbabwe, and Venezuela, where there is no free speech, citizens can be arrested and thrown in jail for making derogatory comments about the government. In North Korea, a 21-year-old University of Virginia student was recently sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for allegedly attempting to steal a propaganda poster from his hotel room.

So, while many of us find Stephen Colbert’s comments rude and tasteless, thankfully, his is protected by the law and has every right to be gross, crass, and disrespectful to the President.

That being said (she wrote as she donned her social skills trainer hat)…

If you say something offensive you still have to deal with the fallout. Just because Stephen Colbert has the legal right to say what he wants (again, thankfully) it doesn’t mean that he is not responsible for his speech. Free speech doesn’t mean that Stephen Colbert can spout off with no repercussions.

There are consequences to saying offensive stuff.

Free speech doesn’t protect Stephen Colbert from losing his job with CBS, advertisers from pulling their ads, viewers from switching to another late-night show, the audience from booing or not buying tickets, or social media demanding his firing.

We practice social skills in our civilized society. Well socialized people conduct themselves appropriately and do not behave impolitely to one another. If someone says something rude they shouldn’t be surprised if someone else responds negatively.

Society has an unwritten code of conduct that allows us to brush elbows with one another in public without a fear of being offended. We have to have these unwritten rules or it would be unbearable to leave our homes.

It is our job to teach children proper social skills like respect for others, having integrity, valuing others and putting others at ease. Children and teens need to learn that even though their speech is protected by the government they still have to communicate using discretion and tact. Teaching children and teens social skills helps them to discern between speech that is appropriate and speech that is offensive. It teaches them the critical thinking skills think about how their speech effects those around them.

Stephen Colbert’s controversy makes us consider our own behavior. Just because we think it doesn’t mean it is appropriate to say aloud.

If you would like to teach children and teens proper social skills and modern etiquette become a certified social skills trainer. Our Communicator Trainer program teaches instructors how to teach children and teens to be powerful, effective speakers who have impact.