Seen and Heard

I’ve talked about this before, using a different phrase, but after working in retail for some time now, I can’t help bringing it up again.

“Children are meant to be seen, not heard.”

The sentence ignites a great amount of irritation in me. I won’t repeat myself because I went into plenty of detail about why the similar phrase, don’t speak unless you’re spoken to, is outdated and makes no sense. But this one feels even more so.

Although it’s short, after the time I’ve already spent working in retail, if there is any age group that should be seen instead of heard, it is adults!

The majority of the customers are pleasant and most transactions go normally with zero trouble. Of the problematic customers I have had, however, I’ve never had one who was a child. Neither have my co-workers. When my co-workers talk about the trouble they have with customers, they are referring to adults.

That’s not to say the children are always angelic. Of course, I hear children cry and occasionally throw temper tantrums. Or they touch things and don’t put them back correctly. I won’t deny that behavior is annoying.

But it pales in comparison to the adult who yells at me because I can’t do their return due to lack of any proof of their purchase (receipt, phone number, and/or sale tags). It’s nothing compared to the adults who frequently come to the register at closing time with a large amount of items for purchase, layaway, or both. It’s not children who leave the aisles a mess, with clothes and trash strewn across the floor (our toy aisle is very rarely messy!).

The worst thing a child has done to me directly at my register? Chatter. Yes, the “worst” experience I’ve ever had with a child at my counter is them sparking up a conversation with me. How dare they speak to me, an adult, when they haven’t been addressed?! Actually, I’m glad they do. They’re quite cheerful and tend to be the bright spot of a long shift.

In fact, the only times so far I’ve heard children continously cry are when they are tired or otherwise uncomfortable, and they’re usually small children (under three years old). I remember one particular small girl who was wailing so loudly, she could be heard throughout the store the entire time she and her family were there. My curiosity got the better of me and when they came to my register, I somewhat jokingly asked if the little one was having a bad day. Her mother flat out said she was tired and needed a nap. Is it the child’s fault she’s not being permitted to sleep? Who isn’t cranky when they’re being kept awake?

Now, I do not at all think children should be treated like adults, and in general, adults are more mature than children. I do believe that. But this concept that a child shouldn’t be allowed to speak solely because they are a child isn’t one I’ve seen to have much merit to it.

If this also refers to interrupting adults when talking, again, that should apply to everybody. Interrupting someone is rude, regardless of your age. I don’t want to be interrupted by a 30-year-old any more than I want to be interrupted by a 3-year-old.

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How About Taking Turns?

“Don’t speak unless you’re spoken to.”

Out of all the rules I ever heard as a child, I think I hate this one the most.

Why? For starters, it has nothing to do with politeness. It’s simply used to shut a small kid up.

Just like the rule of saying nothing at all if you can’t say anything nice, this one gets lost on the path to adulthood. It’s also impossible. If no one spoke unless someone to spoke to them, no one would be able to speak at all. Somebody has to speak first. According to this, that “someone” must always and only be an adult. I want to know why an adult’s words are, by default, considered more valuable than a child’s.

I live with a family that spends half their time spouting racist and sexist nonsense all day. Nobody speaks to them first. They just blurt it out every now and then. What value is this? By contrast, I once babysat a little girl and she started telling me about her family’s trip to Florida. I didn’t ask her to and I didn’t say a word to her. She just did because she wanted to talk. Now, guess which one I’d rather hear.

If this rule is about not interrupting people, fine. That works, but should apply to adults too. It’s rude to interrupt anyone. But otherwise, someone has to speak first, and it’s fine if that “someone” is a child at times. That’s how we make friends. It’s how relationships are formed. It’s how people connect.

This rule needs to either be thrown in the garbage or replaced with something more sensible.

Also, I’ve heard this same rule was once applied, not only to children, but also to women. Admittedly, I don’t know if that’s true or not, but if it is, that alone is enough for me to consider this rule extremely outdated. This is not 1915.

If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…

…don’t say anything at all.

That was something I heard from my mother more times than I can count. Here’s something else I can’t count: the number of people who don’t follow that supposed rule.

Really, where did this saying even come from? I’ve never met a single person who abides by this, including myself. It’s not really possible to avoid things that aren’t so nice. Maybe if everyone in the world was a nice person, but that’s not how the world is.

However, if this expression is referring to unnecessary mean comments, I could agree. Nobody follows it, but it makes more sense. If I found out someone had stolen from me, for example, I’m completely justified in calling them a thief. I wouldn’t be justified in calling them a slur like the n-word.

There’s also the possibility this expression just means not to say unkind things to someone’s face, which is the definition I chose to take with it years ago. Of course, I don’t think talking trash about someone behind their back is much better. Unless they’ve hurt you somehow (in which case, you’re probably venting more than anything), you’re more exposing your own character, not theirs.

Personally, I think this is one of those expressions that needs to die out. Regardless of what meaning it’s taken for, it really may as well be meaningless. Everybody is going to have something unkind to say about someone, and they will say it. It may be within reason. It may not be. But they will.