Youth Work

Seen, not heard…

We’ve all heard the old saying about children being seen and not heard. It’s a very archaic phrase dating back to the 15th Century, so why does it still seem to have so much bearing on childhood today? 

I recently attended a meeting for a young person I was dealing with. Between myself and a colleague we were due to put forward a very clear case on them. In a sense we were his voice and over the previous fortnight he had worried himself sick about what his future held, based on the meeting. It seemed, despite our best efforts of allaying his fears, the overarching issue was that he didn’t fully understand what was happening.

He had decided not to attend the meeting. He didn’t want to get even more confused and upset, but with gentle persuasion he agreed to attend for a few minutes at the beginning to hear the introductions and get the general idea of what was to be said. He still wanted us to advocate for him.

At the meeting, a typical multi-agency one with professionals from different areas of expertise, we stated his intentions and this was met with the response that it was important that he remain for the whole meeting to hear exactly what was said. My colleague decided to take the lead from our side of things and do the talking thus allowing myself a good opportunity to observe and see how things panned out.

Being the one who usually has a lot to say and is called on regularly during these meetings, it was especially interesting watching interactions. Immediately, the young man felt a lack of control again. It was clear he wasn’t happy with being forced to sit through the entire meeting, which would eat through his break.

Every professional said their piece and whilst that typical soothing voice we are trained to use was regular as a heartbeat, each comment tended to end with ‘surely you understand’, or ‘think how you’re affecting your mum’, and ‘is this really what you want?’ The sad part was, he was clearly more confused with each story from each adult, and the subsequent questioning that not only sounded threatening, but also didn’t allow time to digest, make sense of, and respond to, other than the obligatory nod of the head.

‘What do you think about that?’ tended to be met with a confused expression but a mutual agreement of sorts as that seemed to make the adults happy and keep the questioning at bay for a few minutes more. ‘We believe you can make the right choice’. If only he really knew what the right one was.

This meeting of voices talking in riddles and abbreviations continued for nearly an hour and a half. At the end, he was sent back to class and the general consensus was that he wouldn’t make it, but at least ‘everyone believed he’d make the right choice’.

I felt quite distressed by this on the way back to the office. Admittedly, this young man had done wrong recently. He admitted it many times, but he also confided his worries and what seemed a deeply embedded fear of what the adults were deciding should happen with him. It made me wonder why nobody had fully drawn out his answers and remained content with him nodding. Granted it would have made the meeting longer, but perhaps the meeting was too heavy to begin with?

On a broader scale, I started wondering why generally people’s views are not heard? As adults we can enter situations where others will back us into corners and expect us to give the answer that they want to hear. The more I speak to others the more I hear of no mutual agreements to situations, but hands being forced.

Is it that we have a lack of knowledge to be able to deal with people or is it that we no longer have the compassion? Perhaps it’s a mixture. Time plays a huge part of course. We expect everything to happen instantly. When was the last time we were allowed to properly think of replies and answers? Online chat, emails, texts, and television programmes make us expect everything in life to be fast-paced. Perhaps we just need to slow it all down a bit, listen to each other, and hear what our fellow human being is saying rather than what we think they are saying.

I also wonder whether some people just haven’t got the skills to deal with anything out of ‘the ordinary’. Rather than developing knowledge and tools to support their work and lives generally, they are now living in their own happy bubble. God help them when it bursts.

Back at the office, another young person greets me at the door. They’ve been upset and becoming more isolated for months. A two minute chat will have to suffice for now, but more intense and directed support is required. I could probably offer it, but I’m due to attend another meeting and the teacher is calling them back to the classroom, ‘come on, you’ve had your ‘time out”. This young person is clearly becoming more distressed but we just do not have the capacity at the moment to put a long-term support package in place.

I appreciate that everybody has their own agendas that they have to stick to but collaborating and supporting each other will surely serve the world better. Talking and actively listening produces great results, but all too often active listening is overlooked.

On reflection, I don’t think it is actually a case of children should be seen and not heard. The problem has reached adult levels too, and we are entering, it seems, a stage where the feeling is that HUMANS should only be seen and not heard.

Let’s stop this ridiculousness and acknowledge our fellow man (and woman). Let’s listen to their views, let’s work together to bring about positive change, and let us allow people the chance to truly express themselves, even if we don’t understand them to begin with. We might just learn something and be all the better for it!


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