Hearing versus listening: the difference as illustrated by a 10-year-old boy

A blog post about listening

Hearing versus listening: the difference as illustrated by a 10-year-old boyLast week, I took Mr10 to visit the doctor. It was one of those ‘just in case’ visits, and one that I’m sure the parents of other 10-year-old boys might relate to.

I was convinced that there was something wrong with Mr10’s ears. He just didn’t seem to be able to hear my 1000 instructions to put his shoes on/remove his breakfast bowl from the table/clean his teeth/brush his hair.

I could shout from the back door until I was red in the face, but he kept up a steady rhythm as he bounced on the trampoline. I would call him from the sand while he jumped over waves, just metres away, oblivious to the fact that I was even there.

It wasn’t just me. The Builder had noticed the same thing.

Clearly, his ears were full of wax. Or infected. Or something.

“I don’t need to go to the doctor,” Mr10 told me through gritted teeth. “I’m fine. There is nothing wrong with my ears.”

“I need to be sure,” I said, taking him by the hand and dragging him through the doors.

“Hmmm,” said the doctor, peering into his ears with a skinny torch. “It all looks clear.”

He turned to Mr10.

“Do you have trouble hearing at school?”


“Can you hear if people are talking around you?”


“So it’s just your mother’s voice you’re having trouble with?” the doctor said, lips twitching.

“Oh no,” said Mr10. “I can hear her. And Dad. I told mum my ears were fine.”

“Hmmm,” said the doctor, turning to me. “I think what you have here is a listening problem, rather than a hearing one. It’s a common condition in 10-year-old boys.”

I sat back in my chair. “So there is nothing untoward going on, whatsoever.”

The doctor shook his head.

“I can shout at him for not listening to me, as much as I want, knowing that he can hear me perfectly well and I am not guilty of ignoring an underlying health condition.”

The doctor laughed out loud. “Yes.”

As we left the doctor’s surgery, having had a little chat about the importance of acknowledging the fact that someone is talking to you, Mr10 slipped his hand into mine.

“I told you I could hear,” he said. “You just didn’t listen to me.”

Cue: parental eyeroll.

Is anyone in your house suffering from this condition?