As little kids we believe everything our parents say — until reality comes knocking and we start to realize that some things parents say might not be completely true. Whether trying to protect children from the harsh facts of the world, delay a difficult conversation, or just have a little fun with fiction, all parents have probably told more than a few white lies, and maybe the occasional whopper. Here are some of the biggest lies parents tell, including some they may even believe themselves that need debunking.
Reading in the Dark Will Ruin Your Eyes
Young bookworms who wanted to stay up past bedtime and read their favorite stories with a flashlight were likely warned that reading in the dark would damage their eyesight. But according to eye doctors at Harvard, reading in dim light won’t cause any ongoing medical condition. It could tire eyes and cause strain, which could mean a bit of a headache. So it’s probably a good idea to read with some decent lighting.
Knuckle-Cracking Leads to Arthritis
This warning is just plain wrong. Recent studies show that pulling or twist joints creates space between the bones, and that expansion causes negative pressure to fill with the synovial fluid that keeps bones from rubbing together. The "crack" we hear is actually the pop of the synovial fluid filling that new space, and doing so doesn’t cause damage or weakness to joints. The sound will probably still annoy some people, though.
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Swallowed Gum Takes Seven Years to Digest
Maybe there wasn’t a trash can around, or you were trying to hide gum from your parents — whatever the case, you probably swallowed gum at some point and then worried you’d be stuck with that wad for seven years. Well, it turns out that myth doesn’t stick. Gum is mostly indigestible — some brands use the same rubber as inner tubes — and will pass through the digestive system easily. There have been a few cases of kids swallowing too much gum, which led to gastrointestinal issues. So maybe try not to swallow the whole pack.
Chocolate Milk Comes from Brown Cows
As much fun as this one may have been to believe, brown cows do not produce chocolate milk. The lie, however, seems to have had a profound impact on many people, as 7 percent of U.S. adults — that’s around 17.3 million grownups — still believe chocolate milk comes from brown cows. More than 17 million adults.
Swim Too Soon After Eating and You’ll Cramp up and Drown
This whopper has been around for ages. Even the 1908 book "Scouting for Boys" implores young swimmers to wait 90 minutes after chowing down or a drowning "will be your fault." Yikes. Well, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Red Cross, your folks were lying. Just finish swallowing before jumping in the water to avoid accidentally choking and you’ll be safe. The hour wait was probably just made up to give parents a brief reprieve from lifeguard duty.
Watermelons Will Grow in Your Stomach from Swallowed Seeds
You might have panicked when your parents warned you not to swallow watermelon seeds one hot, summer day. But the digestive system is not a friendly place for a seed to grow, so swallow a seed or two during a watermelon seed-spitting contest and it will just continue on its merry way to the toilet. Your parents may have worried about choking — or maybe were just pulling your leg. Either way, you can grow watermelons if you plant them, or you can sprout them and eat them to get the nutritional benefits.
Sitting Too Close to the TV Will Cause Eye Damage
You probably heard this while watching Saturday morning cartoons. Like reading in the dark, sitting too close to the TV won’t damage vision. While there were concerns that TVs developed before the 1950s emitted unsafe levels of radiation, that’s no longer a concern. And while extended close viewings could cause strain and a headache, there’s no lasting damage. In fact, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, kids can focus up close without eye strain better than adults. Take that, Mom.
Touch a Toad and You’ll Get Warts
Parents probably tell this one to stop clothes from getting muddied. You can’t get warts from any amphibian, including toads and frogs. The myth likely started because some toads have warty-looking glands on their skin that are often there to secrete a protective poison to defend against predators, so they probably should be avoided anyway. Warts are caused by a virus — a human one. Some frogs and toads do secrete toxins that can be hallucinogenic or even fatal, and most may have bacteria and parasites on their skin, so don’t try kissing one. Plus, you could harm them. Best to leave them be.
Santa Claus Knows If You’ve Been Naughty or Nice
Santa is just one of many myths perpetuated by parents across cultures to encourage kids to behave. Many people worry that the lie could be harmful once kids figure out Santa isn’t real — but it turns out it may actually have a number of positive developmental impacts on kids, too. Some even enjoy playing along with the ruse after they’ve found out.
Keep Your Eyes Open When Sneezing and They’ll Fall Out
This one seems especially cruel — and has likely led to many playground dares. But fear not. You may have a hard time keeping your eyes open when you sneeze — blame the reflexes — but they won’t pop out of your head. Blood pressure behind your eyeballs might increase slightly when you sneeze, but nowhere near enough to cause them to come flying out.
The Family Pet Is Living Happily on a Farm Upstate
Dealing with the death of a family pet is never easy, so it’s no surprise parents often say the dog/cat/hamster/etc. went to live happily in a "better place" with plenty of wide open spaces to run, fresh air, and their favorite treats. It’s easier than dealing with the emotionally charged concept of death, or explaining why the vet had to put a pet down. But the farm fiction can lead to more fabrications after requests to visit the pet on the farm.
Eating Carrots Will Let You See in the Dark
Parents have been known to try anything to convince their kids to eat more vegetables — including suggesting they’ll grant superpowers. It is true that vitamin A rich carrots are good for eye health, but seeing in the dark? It’s a myth that may have originated in England during World War II as part of a propaganda campaign to confuse German pilots and bolster English confidence.
If You Pee in the Pool, the Water Will Turn Red
Parents discouraging their kids from peeing in swimming pools will often perpetuate the lie that there’s a special chemical added to the water that turns bright red (or blue, or purple, etc.) if someone pees, revealing the guilty party. Anyone who’s ever encountered an unexpected warm spot in a pool knows there’s no such thing. That said, mixing urine and chlorine may actually be harmful, so maybe it’s not such a bad lie. Also, gross.
You Are the Most Talented Kid in the World
After a school art project or newly discovered love of magic, many a parent has told their kid they are the most talented/intelligent/creative child on the planet. With the exception of some child prodigies, probably not. You can’t really blame someone for wearing proud-parent goggles with their kid, and positive encouragement is great — but it might be good to tone down the praise a bit.
Ice Cream Trucks Play Music Only When Out of Ice Cream
Whether it was playing "Yankee Doodle," "The Entertainer," or some other iconic tune, you probably grabbed whatever change you could and went running after the ice cream truck when you heard its familiar sound. Unlucky kids had parents who convinced them the truck only played music when it ran out sweet treats — when really they just didn’t want the kid having ice cream.
Storks Deliver Babies
This yarn has been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years across many different cultures. The specifics vary, but a common version told by parents who aren’t yet ready to explain how babies really come into the world involves a stork carrying the little bundle of joy through the air and either leaving the baby on a doorstep or dropping it down the chimney. It may be a lie, but it’s certainly a poetic one.