Children should be seen and not heard...

December 20, 2014

“Children should be seen and not heard.”

This is what I was raised hearing, over and over and over.

I had heard it for so long that I had just accepted it’s meaning without questioning any other way, that is until I had Eve.

Perhaps it was a generational thing seeing how the only people who says it these days are those of my parent’s or grandparent’s age, and I can understand how it could be so. Nowadays, there is no problem with children being seen and not heard as they are usually glued to some sort of technology so hearing them is of no issue, you would be lucky to even see them! When a kid cries in public and all eyes turn it usually results to some parental pleading for serenity and negotiating some reward in exchange for quiet, not quite the perfect solution as it leads to an encore performance on your next outing. Children are quite sneaky, they know it works and how they can work it.

Being a server for quite some time I can tell you that an Ipad is now just tricks of the trade for parents desperate for a “normal” meal. I say “normal” because that entails your child sitting politely until everyone finishes, bill has been paid and they leave with a graceful thank you to the waiter.

Of course, “normal” never happens. As a parent you are lucky if your child eats even a nibble of that expensive kid’s meal you ordered for them and refrains from using the crayons as torpedo missiles with your server’s head as the target. Then, of course, there are those cursed salt and pepper shakers that at any other point in life are your friends, but with a child around? They are your worst enemy, your server’s too. Basically, you are lucky if your table doesn’t look like a nuclear bomb went off, you were able to enjoy at least two bites of your meal while it was still hot and the entire service team isn’t whispering about Table 12 (Yes, you are table 12 and yes, they are looking at you)
To avoid this we give them technology in exchange for a peaceful meal, fingers crossed. Do I judge? Definitely not as I am frequently one of those parents.

So what has it come down to? My generation was constantly told to be seen but not heard, which may have provided us with a polite and peaceful demeanor around company, however what was the side effect? Did we grow up thinking that our presence was only to be expressed on request? That our insight and thoughts were not important as we are simply shushed out of the room when we try to partake in adult conversation? (I consider myself VERY lucky as my parents carefully balanced this idea with an insane amount of nurturing and listening to their four children. As a pastor's kid I knew that the church congregation expected us to be perfect little role models of the very phrase, seen and not heard, which I think would have done some damage if not for my parents understanding the need for said balance.)

This next generation we no longer tell children to be seen but not heard, we don’t even need to since technology simply distracts them from interacting with us.

Both solutions have negative outcomes. Yes I agree that children should be well behaved and polite to those around them, but not by repeating a phrase that takes away their independence. It leaves the sense of a child’s worth being diminished, giving the idea their parents lack confidence in them to behave properly, so therefore they should remain unheard. Then there is the technology which doesn’t even provide an opportunity for the child to learn any different. They are simply distracted from learning proper social skills, that are only acquired through making mistakes, and being lovingly molded into polite young human beings.

So where does that leave us? At a table with screaming children? Definitely not. But if you suck it up, put the technology and catchphrases away and guide them through social experiences, by teaching them what is acceptable and not.... well, I guarantee the outcome is worth it.

Although I must warn you there is a transition period of letting those cringe worthy, public meltdowns happen without any negotiating or rewarding bad behavior in exchange for quiet. Oh and did I mention not giving in to passing them the phone to play with?

Sounds tough I know, but if you put this crazy method to practice I can guarantee you will start to see changes. They will be small at first but if nurtured and guided, your children will not only learn how to behave properly in public without using some form of a crutch, but you will discover something too! You will discover that your children have SO much to say and some of it is truly remarkable!

By letting your children learn how to cope and soothe themselves appropriately in social settings you are giving them priceless tools to success. In exchange they will give you endless moments to treasure and laugh about. The way children see our world is so exceptionally beautiful that there is a reason they say children are a gift. Definitely not a gift to be seen and not heard but celebrated instead! Their quirky ways of seeing things in a different light, one that we could never discover on our own, will open our minds to the fresh air of LIFE. It will put a pause button on our hurried lives so we may enjoy the little things in life, the things that only children can see and share.

So this holiday season please bear with those that say children should be seen and not heard, they don’t know any better and this is your opportunity to show them otherwise. Be wary about just handing off your technology to your children for not only is it preventing them from making REAL life memories but sharing the joy that they naturally have.

Children truly have SO much to teach us. In order to experience their magical lessons we have to unlearn what we grew up with, and in the same breath decide not to delve into this generation’s crutch of technology. This may very well be one of the most difficult times to raise a child as “normal” as possible, but the end result will be forever lasting. Not only in their lives, because what you choose to do NOW will impact the way they raise their children and so on and so on.

The transition period is definitely difficult. By no means do I suggest letting your child run wild with no discipline or guidance, that completely negates what I have suggested. It is only through careful nurturing and guidance you can show your child firsthand how to behave in social settings. Keeping in mind you are their role model, you cannot hold them to high standards if you yourself are not abiding by them. Put your phone away, turn the TV off and listen to what they have to say, show respect to those around you and teach them to respect their elders and authority.

And please, don’t treat children as little humans that should only be seen and not heard. That is an insult to them and a true shame, just imagine what you could learn from these vessels of innocence and brilliance.

After chasing and roaring at the pigeons in the park for a good 15 minutes they all flew away at Eve's dismay. Once they returned to a nearby roof Eve decided she absolutely must join them in their flight.
Leaving me in the tough position of telling a toddler they cannot fly. If there was ever a moment I could make a wish come true this would be it, I wish I could have given her those wings.

This is one of the reasons I firmly believe the phrase "Children must be seen and not heard," is such a shame. Just imagine all these priceless moments that would be missed...

NOTE: This isn't some crazy post where I suggest banning your child from technology forever suggesting you are permanently damaging them otherwise, definitely not. It is all about balance, a healthy balance. If you ever see me out eating with Eve I will probably be handing her my phone to play with, but only after our meal is complete and she has behaved appropriately. Do we have our bad days where I hide in the bathroom eating chocolate using the Ipad to distract her? Most definitely.  That photo at the top of this post is of one of Eve's epic grocery store meltdowns during our transition period.

We all have our moments, but as long as we are letting our children discover the world without a crutch and providing our loving attention as support, I think we'll all be OK in the end.

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  1. Hi Ruth,

    I agree that balance is so important. children should be respected as people and given the opportunity to meet and exceed expectations as well as fall short - to see "failure" as a chance for growth.

    our kids (5, 3, 6months) have been dining out from a very young age, both dive-y and fancy restaurants and we don't distract with technology while eating out or in our daily lives (no tv, very occasional educational videos on the ipad, computer use only when printing out photos or craft projects) and so they participate in the meal and the conversation. do they get fidgety? of course, bored at times? of course but it's a process, a learning process as you point out.

    looking forward to following your endeavors.

    smiles, June Mee

    1. Hello June!

      Thank you so much for your comment! It is so refreshing to hear a fellow parent's point of view and their own personal experience. I love that you have lived this lifestyle since they were all young, it is truly inspiring. For our family it has definitely been a learning experience where we saw firsthand what comes from using technology as a crutch. We depended on it to the point where I could see the negative effect it was having not only on Eve, but as individuals too! Scary stuff.
      If you have any advice on how you do it I will happily take it :) Thank you again for leaving your comment.
      Wishing you and your family a very Happy New Year!

  2. Hi Ruth,

    Sorry for the delay in writing back. I’ve had many conversations about technology in the home with other parents over the years and I was commissioned by my local mother’s club to write an article for our newsletter in regards to my family’s relationship with technology since we are so minimal.

    We don’t have cable/subscription service, no movies, no video games, no smartphones, once/twice a month nature videos on the ipad, computer use for typing and printing out photos or crafting projects.

    Consistency is key and not introducing various technologies too early is also important. Ultimately, each family needs to find the right balance for them. Try cutting back or even going on a technology fast for two weeks and see if you notice any changes positive/negative and slowly add back screen time.

    I’d love to include a link to this post in my article. Would that be ok?

    smiles, June Mee

    1. I should clarify, no movies, no video games, no smartphones for the kids. I certainly couldn't live without my smartphone.