Mar 5, 2010

Skewed Meaning of "Seen But Not Heard"

“Children should be seen and not heard” -----that’s the age-old saying.

I think it’s supposed to imply that kids should observe, speak when spoken to, not talk back and give respect to their elders (that mean anyone older than them--so us 20 something’s fall into that category too!)

I am a 20something. It isn’t THAT long ago that I was a kid. I remember hearing and being offended by this little cliché saying. I found it insulting and stifling. Now as an adult, I see the logic behind it. It’s not supposed to imply that children should not have a thought or an opinion or a voice. It means that children should observe, learn how to make appropriate comments and how to interact socially.

I think somewhere along the line this idea became skewed. Children are not quieted to learn and observe, but are silenced by technology and lack of parenting.

Let me explain…

I walked into a restaurant the other night and I saw a little boy; he must have been 7 or 8, slumped over in a chair with his head down. I noticed he had some sort of Game Boy or “DS” (as they call it now) in his hands. He had earphones in so he could hear the sound, but not disturb anyone else. His parents were engaged in conversation with one another not paying him any attention. They left him alone and he left them alone. Hey, it’s cheaper than getting a babysitter. (Note the sarcasm here)

This little boy was a living example, the epitome of “seen but not heard.” You would think he would be the model child to fit that age-old saying. But he is not. Actually, it is all-wrong.

This boy is not observing and learning social skills through his silence. Instead he is silenced by the music of a video game and the glow of a blue computer screen. All he is learning is that’s okay to isolate yourself in a social setting.

I couldn’t help but think back to my childhood. I have always been a lover of words. I remember intently listening to my parent’s interactions with another and I would listen for, what I called, “foo-foo” words. No, not curse words, although I did learn some of those by default. I mean words like “accolades” “indicative of,” “kudos” or “perplexed.” I would ask my mother later what those words meant, she would explain and I would try and use them in my own speech. I liked the way these words rolled off my tongue. I liked sounding older and smart. I liked that my teachers would look impressed when I used a “foo-foo” word at school.

Through observation and listening I learned from my parents. I asked a million questions and they tried (as long as their patience would allow) to answer all of them. I observed how they smiled and greeted people. I asked why some people got hugs and some people got handshakes. I learned to answer people politely when they spoke, that it was rude to interrupt, to make eye contact and to call people “Mr.” and “Mrs.” out of respect.

Nothing monumental, but little things that made a big difference; like manners “please, ” “thank- you,” “excuse me” and “God Bless You.” These things that seems to be lacking in today’s youth of America.

That boy in the restaurant with the video game would probably walk with his head down and face staring at the screen. He would climb into his car and his parents would turn on the DVD player that flipped down, creating yet another barrier in physicality and communication. At least he would be quiet in the car. He would be seen, but not heard.

He would not watch his parents play the air guitar with Richie Sambora to a Bon Jovi song. Nor would he ever learn the words to Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty without actually knowing the meaning of “Thunder Road” or “Last Dance with Mary Jane.” The headphones that allowed him to hear the DVD playing would also deprive him of this interaction.

It’s called hands- off, laissez-faire parenting.
Plop your kids in front of a TV, video game or computer. If you’re on the go bring the Game Boy or Nintendo DS, the Leapfrog laptop computer or the portable DVD player. Whether you’re in the comfort of your own home or traveling abroad, your parenting skills can be absent of affect. Your child will be socially inept, but at least you won’t have to answer another “why” question or hear them whine about something.

This is an epidemic.

I remember that at the end of dinner if I didn’t say “May I be excused” I couldn’t get up from the table. I couldn’t imagine trying to wear headphones and play a video game during a meal. That stuff would not fly with my parents. I’m sure there were times (many times) when they wished us kids would just shut the hell up for a little while, but they understood that when they had kids they got the blessings and the burdens. It’s a package deal people!

What bothers me most is the discipline or lack of. Even that is “Hands-off.” Time-Outs are the “new” punishment. Now, your socially inept kid acts out (probably because you have not taught them how to behave) you are perturbed at their lack of respectable behavior, (can’t figure out why they don’t naturally know right from wrong), but you punish them anyway by banishing them to their room. Their bedroom, where they have a TV, DVD player, cell phone, computer and video games. Real big sacrifice, real big punishment huh? (*Note heavy sarcasm)

Well let me tell you something all your “time-outers”… brace your selves here.

Remember those wooden paddles that had a bouncy ball attached to the string? My mom would rip the bouncy ball off and use it for a hiney-paddle. If we were bad, we would get a smack (more like a lite tap). Enough for me to know that what I was doing was wrong. It wasn’t used often, but knowing it was there, tucked away in the kitchen drawer, was enough to keep my siblings and I walking the straight and narrow.

Now let me clarify --> having a hiney-paddel does not mean that I was beat or that anyone should have called Child Services. It was a mild form of discipline. Now, there are extreme cases where children are battered and this is NOT a joke. I, in no way, condone beating children. Child abuse is a very serious and terrible thing. What I am saying is that there should be a happy medium. Having a “Time-Out” is the polar opposite of Child Abuse. They are both extreme ends of the spectrum and I do not believe either is effective, appropriate or acceptable.

I think we need a happy medium… (See below)

TIME OUT -----------HINEY-PADDLE-------------CHILD ABUSE
(Extremely useless)                       (Happy medium)                   (EXTREMELY unacceptable)

Along with the happy medium comes what my parents called “Fear Of God”. This is the ability for a parent to make their child stand up straight and stop whatever they were doing just by giving “THE LOOK.” You know what I’m talking about, the un-nerving Mommy/Daddy death stare. The one that when given; you know you’re caught, you have explaining to do and if you don’t stop immediately you may face the hiney-paddle.

The sad truth about all of this “current-technology- dependent- kid- bashing” is that it’s not even the child’s fault. And in the parent's defense, these new advancements in technology are great education tools and distractions- JUST USE THEM IN MODERATION! Children need discipline and boundaries too. They need parents who will instill fear of the paddle. Parents who want to communicate with them, explain right from wrong and instill accountability into their children. Parents who don’t rely solely on some form of technology to occupy ALL their child’s time.


Kids today have various types of technology at their fingertips. Things that weren’t a contributing factor when I was growing up (even at 20soemthing). Today, kids don’t need to ask Mom about “foo-foo” words. They can Google any word, get a definition and hear an automated voice give a pronunciation. They can search any song, game, movie, show and download it in seconds. However, just because they have the technology doesn’t mean they wouldn’t rather have Mom explain it to them.

They have instant gratification which risks instant isolation. I however had instant interaction. It wasn’t always good (sometimes it was hiney-paddel interaction), but I learned from it.

I am not a parent; I am not an authority on parenting. But we were all once children and from an objective point of view, if you want a child who is a social participating member of society…put the computer, TV, video games, and cell phone down and try the traditional idea of spending some quality time (battery free).


"Your children need your presence more than your presents…" -Jesse Jackson