Does the age-old saying “children should be seen and not heard” apply when it comes to kids in Singapore? I took to Instagram to find out. It turns out I don't always agree with the verdict...
Growing up, I was part of a big family. With 18 cousins, I was towards the younger end and, as a little one, mainly stuck with the younger kids when it came to conversations. What could my older relatives bring to the table when it came to our discussion on Digimon anyway? It turns out the feeling was mutual. I remember interrupting my uncle’s conversation because I felt he needed to hear my joke. First off, I broke the cardinal rule of forgetting to say “excuse me”. But that aside, I could tell my uncle wasn’t happy. Suddenly my joke wasn’t all that funny as I hesitated and choked on the words. Needless to say, I missed the punchline. My uncle, stone-faced, replied, “and that’s why children should be seen and not heard”.
Thinking about this memory made me wonder if this opinion holds today? Do the public really think children should be seen and not heard? Or is that old school proverb now completely outdated? I decided to do a poll on my Instagram asking just that…
Should children under six be seen and not heard?
The IG poll verdict? No.
It might be controversial to some, but I disagree with this. If I’m honest (and remember, I’m a mum of a little one too), I liken talking to a child under six to the babblings of a heartbroken girl who had tequila for the first time. High pitched, fast-paced, passionate, but incoherent and with no point. Of course, I think parents should engage and encourage their child’s wandering mind, but they shouldn’t be offended when others don’t feel the same. As my mother once told me, “no one thinks your child is as interesting as you do”. I’ve been placed in this situation countless times, where I’m having a conversation, a child interrupts, and the whole room is expected to stop and give this child undivided attention. Personally, I think the child benefits so much more when they observe.
What about children over six but under 12 years old?
This time followers agreed. The majority thought that children at this age should be seen and not heard.
This just so happened to be the age when I first heard this famous saying. And I continued to hear it as my older sister loved to use it as her go-to insult for me. To be honest, I wasn’t bothered when adults didn’t chat with me. The questions were always the same anyway, “How’s school?”, “What’s your favourite subject?” and an oldie but a goodie, “Do you have a boyfriend?”. In all seriousness, I learned a lot from listening to others. I was always impressed how people could stand behind their point with such conviction in front of others.
So does this mean I agree with my followers on this one? To some extent, yes. But at the same time, I feel like this is a prime age to shape kids and build their confidence, so they know that their opinion matters. This is also the time before the secretive stage of “teenhood”, so it’s vital to build that safe space and trust so they know you’re their go-to. Sadly, this is greatly lacking in a lot of homes. This means that most conversations end at, “How’s school?”. Our reliance on technology makes this even trickier, meaning kids can very easily bury their heads in their phones and play up to the famous saying.
Teenagers – should they be seen and not heard?
Another interesting response – according to the majority of followers, the answer is yes.
This is where I strongly disagree. Teenagers should be ignored? Ludacris! This could go some way to explaining why I think teenagers in Singapore lack public speaking skills when compared to global peers. It’s almost like teens are forced to be invisible because the adults around them assume they couldn’t possibly have anything worth saying. The only place where they might feel happy to say it is online. But feeling safe stating an opinion under anonymity without being responsible for defending it isn’t the same.
I’m grateful that I was included in conversations at this age – there was the expectation to participate and initiate conversations actively. This could be chats about anything, from casual talk about a tv show to the stock market performance. I felt such pride at 14 when I could hold the interest of the very uncle who told me I should be seen and not heard all those years ago.
How do we get our kids to talk?
It’s ok for me to say that I think kids should be heard for the most part, but it’s sometimes easier said than done. How do we get our kids to chat and develop those all-important skills? Here’s where I think we could start…
• Give the TV a night off and have a family dinner where the kids take centre stage. Did you know the Kennedys always had debates around the dinner table?
• If you drive your kids to school, this is prime time to talk and learn more about how they are doing.
• Ask their opinion. My mother was a teacher, and she’d often come home and tell me a scenario and ask if she’d handled it correctly. Make your kid feel valued and involved by showing them that their opinion matters.
• Take them out for meals alone. Just parent and child – no TV or phones. Why not break the ice by ordering them something they’ve never tried!
Whatever you do – talk to your kids and make them feel valued. We all know growing up is tough, and as another famous saying goes – a problem shared is a problem halved!
Lead image: Kristina flour via Unsplash