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Atoke’s Monday Morning Banter: Be Seen, But Not Heard



“You must be seen, but not heard’ – This is a common thing heard by Nigerian children who grew up before the turn of the Millennium. When adults are talking, children either disappear or remain quiet. Consciously or otherwise, children were stifled. Their opinion is neither sought, nor respected, as it is generally believed that the adult always knows best. Prima facie, this might not be such a big deal, but the ricochet effect of what it does to a person’s personality makes one consider why we started doing it, and whether we need to re-evaluate why we muzzle our young minds.
My friend, Moren, told me of how she was speaking to a 13 year old and trying to make conversation- the girl kept answering with monosyllables. According to Moren, the conversation may have gone in a completely opposite direction if the 13 year old was British. In that instance, the child would have probably gone on to give more elaborate answers, or even proffered her own opinion on the questions asked.

There’s no presupposition that the adult knows best at all times, and this gives room for bouncing of ideas across age brackets. The freedom of being able to express one’s self – rightly or wrongly is a fertile ground for growth and development.

The innate culture of ‘Be Seen & Not Heard’ goes on into the work place – so you find older colleagues being unnecessarily miffed that a young 24 year old on their team dared to speak up in front of the Managing Director. It’s particularly interesting in the work place where what you’re bringing to the table should be about your deliverables and not about your age. So you find that Nigerians sometimes get upset when there’s someone younger than them in a position of authority over them.Atoke Cheerios

The doctrine of ‘be seen, but not heard’ also extends to women – you find that culturally women aren’t allowed to have opinions.
This weekend, I met a couple at small dinner gathering. Every time the wife tried to join the conversation at the table, her husband would hush her up and smile at the rest of us with a silly looking grin. After a while, the chic excused herself from the table and went to sit with the children who were soaking in the Disney animation, Frozen. Later that night, I was asking my people if I was the only one who found the entire thing a little weird. They had all noticed it, and someone confirmed that what I observed was the norm with that couple. In fact, it was more surprising that she had attempted to even join the conversation where her husband was in the first place. It was a general rule with them that the woman be seen and not heard.

In 2015?
I was a little bit thrown by the discovery, but I was cautioned that the dynamics of marriages differ from couple to couple. Still perplexed – this was a young couple. I asked if this particular guy was a lot older than the girl – perhaps it’s a question of ‘Big Bros and Younger Sis’. Almost akin to the way young children are told not to speak when adults are conversing – ‘Kobo shouldn’t be sounding where Naira is talking’.

It may be argued that there has to be a leader and a follower in every arrangement; however, one wonders if leadership automatically translates to the eradication of individuality.

There’s a lot to be said for nurturing potential in our children. It goes a long way to help their self-esteem. It helps them to know that they are people too, and their voices can be heard. While there is a place for order – and the mineralization of cacophony, we should not raise our children to think that their opinions are irrelevant. The child that says something inane today, will drop a pearl of knowledge tomorrow.
The long term effect of a damaged self-confidence takes longer to eradicate than if you just nurture the child properly.

As we set forth into the new year, let’s start on the right foot. Culture is dynamic – never static. If women don’t eat gizzard in your family, look deeper and find out why. It’s time to uproot deep-seated norms that are not helping us grow. When that 21 year old in your office is saying something, keep an open mind – listen, process and then decide. Don’t discard the information just because you’re 44 and the boy was not born when you were doing NYSC.

Have a great year ahead.

Peace, love & carrot sticks.


Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Spotmatik

You probably wanna read a fancy bio? But first things first! Atoke published a book titled, +234 - An Awkward Guide to Being Nigerian. It's available on Amazon. ;)  Also available at Roving Heights bookstore. Okay, let's go on to the bio: With a Masters degree in Creative Writing from Swansea University, Atoke hopes to be known as more than just a retired foodie and a FitFam adherent. She can be reached for speechwriting, copywriting, letter writing, script writing, ghost writing  and book reviews by email – [email protected]. She tweets with the handle @atoke_ | Check out her Instagram page @atoke_ and visit her website for more information.


  1. Nike

    January 5, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    “If women don’t eat gizzard in your family, look deeper and find out why.”

    This sentence has me smiling at my desk. My Mum told me that growing up the gizzard was reserved for only the head of her family – her father. I went to visit some cousins in Yankee last year and I met the parents and children all struggling for the head of fish (that cannot happen in Nigeria; parents pick first.). My Auntie told me that sometimes in frustration she buys only fish head so that there will be peace!

    At home and at work I constantly have people passing up on the advice I give because I am much younger; and my small stature doesn’t help one bit. I have taken to giving my take on an issue once without imposing my ideas and sitting back to see the shit hit the fan. And this happens a lot.

    At work I have a superior who is so old-fashioned in his thinking; he always brings up the fact that he has been working since before I was born. Each time he asks me to write an opinion or express it he never takes my suggestions. He has however had to treat me with (grudging) respect because at the end of the day my way of handling issues is picked over his by the management of my establishment.

    This is 2015 every voice should be heard.

    • DIG

      January 6, 2015 at 8:31 pm

      R u sure ure not my big sis?lol.
      i agree wit u 100%

  2. funmilola

    January 5, 2015 at 3:54 pm

    Absolutely agree with you atoke,children should be allowed to bare their minds.

  3. D

    January 5, 2015 at 4:01 pm

    Fada Lawd…he hushed his wife??? say wetin??? uhmmm about children being seen but not being heard. This article got me thinking…so it was that way for the most part in my family especially when my parents had company but my parents still made it ok for us to sit with them and give our opinion…hence where I got the name SALU Lenu …my dad calls me that, for interpretation not sure what the direct translation means but I am sure it means someone that is “mouthed” I have an older couple that I am close to where I currently reside and they are Caucasians we were at a store a few years back with their then teenage daughter and this girl is a notice me kind of person, they had met a family friend who was speaking to the mother, see mouthed daughter come dey put mouth. The mother was highly irritated and tried to laugh it off in front of said company but did give it to her daughter once said company left and told her not to speak when she was speaking to someone ever again. The truth is when she (daughter) chimed in it was totally inappropriate. I thought to myself so this not a 9ja thing but how do you balance giving your children the needed confidence they need and teaching them when they need to keep quiet and when they need to speak up…just thinking. My hubby and I had a discussion recently about this his dad was of that bandwagon but suddenly wonders why all his kids don’t pick up the phone to talk to him. I guess my point is finding a good balance is key. But for the husband and wife deal, My hubby is 9 years older than I am and he better not hush me Nothing…once he started eyeing me he went from brother to non-brother, i.e no more brotherly things to be expected not that I ever believed in such brotherly things to begin with.

  4. oj

    January 5, 2015 at 4:02 pm

    love, love, love!!!
    Preach it!!!
    That’s why Nigeria is so backward. Most Nigerians place so much emphasis on seniority and marital status.

  5. omoibo

    January 5, 2015 at 4:26 pm

    To be seen and not heard is a sure way of breeding inferiority complex in a child then later as an adult will try to constantly overcompensate and oppress others because of the lingering inferiority complex. Look around you, anytime someone has to make someone else feel lesser than them, it’s because they have a complex within themselves.

  6. Neo

    January 5, 2015 at 4:29 pm

    Happy new year!

    Let me play Devil’s advocate a bit. Is this not a teensy weeny bit the reason Nigerian kids of this era were a lot more respectful than their oyinbo counterparts? Not to downplay any of the downsides like the unnecessary timidity and “fear” of older people even into adulthood but i think its imperative to strike a healthy balance. Sometimes kids should be seen and not heard, my Dad was a high chief and held many meetings, we knew as kids to make ourselves and our voices scarce at such times but that didn’t mean we didn’t know when to show up, greet and answer questions we were asked intelligently.

  7. Chinma Eke

    January 5, 2015 at 4:32 pm

    Funny, I just read finished Chimamanda’s Purple Hibiscus yesterday (lastma, I know), and I know the ‘children are to be seen and not heard’ maxim is some people’s reality, but I’m proud to say that wasn’t how I grew up.
    Growing up, I was encouraged to speak up, I was called ‘razor tongue’, but nobody in my family hushed me when I spoke. Looking back, I remember some adults from other families finding this strange, but in my family and I had a ‘compound’ family; i.e my mother and her friends were more like sisters and all the children of the ‘friends’ grew as cousins. we used to begin our holidays together in one house, move to the other, and so on. Now as adults, people find it difficult to believe we are family friends and there’s no blood relationship, in fact we’ve given up explaining.
    We are all Igbo’s, and in all our homes we were encouraged to speak-up. We were treated as individuals and respected as such. We aren’t rich o! And had no holidays outside the country, and our parents were all born in their villages and migrated to the city as adults, so I really can’t explain why we had it this good, but we’re grateful for it.
    For those that still believe ‘children and women are to be seen and not heard’, the only words I have for you are: this is 2015, the world belongs to the outspoken and daring!

  8. Tosin

    January 5, 2015 at 5:18 pm

    Going deep in 2015! I have to share this.

  9. TA

    January 6, 2015 at 2:06 pm

    @ Atoke,great post. I thought there was no banter yesterday. Only just saw this now.
    Anyone who knows me knows am that chic you will tell something and the next question is why? I question everything I know of. From religions to culture to sexuality and everything in between. Then I do my own little research and decide what to believe. My parents knew this was just how I was and thankfully did not try to stifle me but helped me spread my wings and fly without exactly knocking others out of my way; that is how I see kids butting into other people’s conversations not just adults. There is a time and place for everything. Kids can learn to speak up and question norms without being rude or acting like the world owes them some. You can be seen and heard but biko do not be in our faces or be overbearing. Parents should strive to raise balanced kids. That’s my take.

  10. portable

    January 6, 2015 at 4:41 pm

    Errr, who comes up with what should happen in what year anyway? What if its 2015? Are we any different than we were in 2011. If you desire to re-organize your life or change your perspectives about child raising and whatever else, do it because its is right, wrong, beneficial or not. Not because its 2015. It will be 2025 one day peeps and it will do us a lot of good to still have values when that day comes.

  11. DOO

    January 6, 2015 at 7:50 pm

    Let us ‘hear’ word!

  12. Chinco

    January 7, 2015 at 7:52 pm

    I was patiently waiting for your banter. Thank you for this write up, my folks are/ were conservative… they believe women should cook, kids should be quiet, amongst other views but I refuse to accept many of their views and always questioned a lot of things ( like why should i be the one following mum to the kitchen when my brother and i were watching flintstones, lets all go to the kitchen then), so I was beaten a lot and labelled stubborn but that didnt stop me from being outspoken or a go getter. I think no matter your upbringing, your real self will still find its way out.
    As an adult now, they dont understand a lot of my views or why im not ‘traditional’ like my sisters but of course are more tolerant and try to accept it

  13. Diuto

    January 10, 2015 at 12:48 am

    Nice topic but I’m sad that very few people passed comments. My folks allowed us to be seen n heard. Girls n boys cook n clean the house no selective treatment. Everyone was allowed 2 express their opinion but not disrespecting others while at it.

  14. miss

    January 11, 2015 at 3:06 pm

    Mine was be seen and not heard. We cant even eat with our father let alone be seen around when he has a visitor. Though to them its the best way to train a child not realizing the negative effect it will have on the children. I stifled at every shout and finds it difficult to express myself. But its better now and am still working on it.

  15. Precious Ibik

    January 12, 2015 at 9:19 am

    When we were kids, my parents encouraged us to speak up but not interrupt or make an contribute when they were discussing with a visitor which is okay. We are free around my parents, infact we hold family meetings where you are allowed to tell your dad his “fu**up” to his face with no fear of repercussion.

  16. Precious Ibik

    January 12, 2015 at 9:19 am

    *make a contribution

  17. Chichi

    January 15, 2015 at 8:41 pm

    Hahahahahaaaa… “Every time the wife tried to join the conversation at the table, her husband would hush her up and smile at the rest of us with a silly looking grin. After a while, the chic excused herself from the table and went to sit with the children who were soaking in the Disney animation,” I’m not an advocate of being seen and not heard but who knows what the guy was trying to avoid. I once went out with hubby, his director and wifey, and another couple. In the course of discussion, director’s wifey kept asking if a certain Anietie was an Hausa man.

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