Children Should be Seen and Not Heard?

We’ve probably all heard the expression, children should be seen and not heard. But in America, I don’t see that as being true. Most parents are concerned with teaching their children proper respect and manners, but children are generally integrated into social situations and taught to interact appropriately with different types of people in various situations.

As we were reading a “Culture” book about Kenya in preparation for our move, it noted that the adage children should be seen and not heard was generally alive and well here. I wondered how our children would compare with theirs. Wonder no more–our children are most certainly seen and heard.

Kenyan children, even while at play, generally do not yell and scream (at least from what I have heard). Even the babies seem quiet; they are carried, held, and nursed what seems constantly  and are quite content for the most part. The only time I have heard a baby cry is early in the morning, upon their waking (our neighbors are all quite close, so not much is secret!). When adults are conversing, children generally sit quietly with their parents or in the background. They seem not to seek entertainment but patiently endure what must be quite boring.

In contrast, while adults are talking, our children may be asked to sit quietly for a while, which they do without complaint, but at some point we will excuse them.Once released, they will wander off into another room or outside, where their happy-but-loud noise generally carries throughout the house (one benefit of having no ceilings and a tin roof!). I hesitate to reprimand them, but the difference is certainly marked. I’m not sure how our Kenyan counterparts react to our children’s ways, but at the same time I don’t know to what extent we will try to conform their behavior.

What is your feeling about children being seen and not heard? Is it better for children to be brought up under this expectation–what are the advantages and disadvantages, for them, for the family, and for society? To what extent would you try to train (or re-train) your children if a cultural or social expectation was at odds with your practices?

5 thoughts on “Children Should be Seen and Not Heard?

  1. If I was a guest in Kenya, I would make every effort to fit in to the culture as long as it didn’t violate Biblical principles. Ask yourself, is the fact that my children are loud (although joyful) going to be a stumbling block for the Kenyans and make them less receptive to the Gospel?

    I would talk with my children and explain to them that they do it differently in Kenya. I’m sure they themselves have already noticed quite a number of differences, and likely have even noticed the difference in the way the children behave and play. I would reassure them that they are not being naughty, but in order to be respectful of the culture they are in, they need to play more quietly.

    1. I agree, Lois. We’re trying to do this, but I think it will be a process. 🙂 I am hoping that even though there are differences, it will also be a witness to those around us that we are striving to integrate into the culture and community as much as we can.

      1. Oh dear, I hope that it didn’t come across as me thinking that you wouldn’t train your children that way. I was merely answering your question “To what extent would you try to train (or re-train) your children if a cultural or social expectation was at odds with your practices?” I have a huge amount of respect for what you are doing, and am quite certain that you are doing a fabulous job.

        It must be difficult on you & your little ones when our culture is so different from the one you are now in.

        This subject came up tonight with my oldest son. We have some dear friends that just adopted a sibling group from Ukraine. The culture shock for their boys is incredible, they’ve lived most of their young lives within the confines of an orphanage with very strict guidelines. The other day they were quite worried that they would be in trouble because they got dirty while outside playing. It took much reassuring that it was fine, go play, have fun!

        My son observed very astutely though that while it is culture shock, it must be easier to go from a very strict culture to a more permissive one. That’s not to say that all areas of their old life were strict nor are all areas of their new life more permissive. Just that the culture shift would be much easier one way rather than the other.

        I instantly thought of you and your precious children. How much more difficult it must be for them to learn to play quietly than it would be for a Kenyan child coming to the US and being told he could now be loud.

        1. Don’t worry, I didn’t think your comment was judgmental in the least. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your story and the conversation with your son. It is true that it’s likely easier to go from a stricter culture to one that is more permissive; however, in either case I think there is probably some stress in conforming to different expectations. Interesting thoughts…

  2. What a blessing it would be to HAVE to enforce–no, REALLY ENFORCE–the wisdom training of quietness and keeping one’s mouth shut. I am continually reminding my children that their words must be few, necessary, kind, encouraging, exhorting, or helpful–and we look at the many, many, many scriptures that call us to this type of wisdom. Yet, in our noisy American culture, it is not necessary to train in this wisdom so thoroughly, nor even be so accountable ourselves. As always, blessed are the poor in spirit–those who have so much less really do have so much more. I am inspired by your post to be more diligent with imparting this wisdom to my children, so that they can know to be still, and know that He is God. So they can hear His voice, and obey God and their parents so much more readily and clearly. What a shocking picture of how easy it is to “slack” in needed wisdom in so many areas in our noisy, busy, wealthy, cluttered, fancy, deluxe, spiced up, American life.

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