Seen and Not Noticed

I grew up in an era when children were supposed to be “seen and not heard.” This meant that we were not supposed to bother grown-ups. If our parents had a dinner party, we might be trotted out for brief introductions, but then we were dismissed to our own realm, having previously been fed in the kitchen. We participated in family dinners, of course, but our opinions still carried less weight than our parents’, no matter how much we might be encouraged to talk. In general, adults lived in their own world, and children were allowed to live in theirs. As long as children behaved themselves, parents and other adults took no notice of them. (And if they did misbehave, then any nearby adult—a friend’s parent, teacher, shopkeeper, policeman—could act in loco parentis without risking indignant protests from the parents: the “it takes a village” concept kicking in.)

In recent years, as I am of course far from the first to observe, parents have become much more obsessed with their children. This may be due partly to having fewer of them (in larger families, older children looked after the younger ones, and we had playmates within the family) and partly to guilt over not “being there” for them. Whether it’s a stay-at-home mom living vicariously through her children (pressed to live out her unfulfilled dreams) or a working mom anxious to spend “quality time” with her children when she can, these mothers (and parents generally) can often smother their kids, overscheduling their lives and leaving them no time for imaginative play.

Yes, these are huge overgeneralizations (and trite ones at that), but I was reminded of this phenomenon on my walk today when I passed three preteens (two boys and a girl) “hanging out” across the street from where I was walking. They didn’t seem to be doing anything in particular, just lounging around in the typically floppy posture of kids who haven’t completely come to terms with their bodies, and talking amongst themselves (I was not close enough to overhear any of their conversation). They have to have seen me (if only because I was calling attention to myself by staring at them for reasons that aren’t important), but they did not acknowledge me in any way, and I returned the favor, avoiding making eye contact and, in short, totally ignoring them.

I reflected that this was surely what they would have wanted. They would want to be ignored, to be left alone to their own devices, to be kids. So I left them safe in the illusion that they were as invisible and insignificant to me as the ants that might cross my path. And if they had even noticed that they were being ignored, I would have hoped that they appreciated it!

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1 Response to Seen and Not Noticed

  1. Today’s column by John Rosemond, whom I much admire, is along similar lines: “Here’s something you already know, but don’t know you know: Children love to be ignored. Mind you, I’m not talking about neglect. I’m talking about ignored, as in being seen and not heard, out from underfoot, free to do their own thing without adults hovering neurotically over them making sure everything in their lives is all right and meaningful from moment to moment.” Read the rest at—9208.html

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