9 Popular Parenting Myths, From Swallowing Gum To Crossed Eyes

Science says you can stop perpetuating these myths.

by Matt Schneiderman
Originally Published: 
parenting myths

All parents must think on their feet. And this, of course, is just another way of saying that all parents must be dirty, dirty liars. It’s only natural: lies (sorry white lies) are necessary for preserving innocence (Oh that jolly guy in the red suit who magically fits his 48 waist down tight chimneys? Yeah, he totally exists.), promoting good manners (Don’t eat your fingernails, they’ll clog your intestine!) and protecting kids‘ well being (That hole in the backyard? Go too deep and you’ll fall all the way to China).

But sometimes parenting fibs turn into truths that everyone somehow accepts. Your parents told you them, so you tell them to your kids. Things like swallowed gum stays in your stomach for 7 years. Or knuckle-cracking leads to arthritis. Sorry to burst your bubble, but these threats are as hollow as a piñata. Here are 9 common parenting threats that just aren’t true. That doesn’t mean you can’t still use them to keep the kids in line.

1. Gum Stays In Your Stomach for 7 Years

Growing up, you were scared into not gulping down your Big League Chew for fear that the piece would stick to the side of your stomach and stay for an entire 7 years. The reality, however, is that, while the majority of your Bubble Yum wad is indigestible, it will pass through like any other bit of waste. This is because your body, not unlike a teenager’s mouth, is expertly designed to expel crap. The exception, as reported in a 1998 study, is chronic gum swallowing. This terrible habit could result in constipation, require medical extraction of a taffy-like mass, and make for a cool story at the Emergency Room staff’s holiday party.

2. The 5-Second Rule

That Pop-Tart you dropped on the floor, picked up, and brushed off quickly might still be teeming with bacteria. A recent Rutgers study debunked the 5-second rule, reporting that bacteria such as salmonella can contaminate food instantaneously. Sure, the longer the food stuff is in contact with the floor, the more bacteria that gets transferred. But it doesn’t limit all bacteria. Some good news: The study determined that eating something that was dropped on the carpet is relatively safer than eating something that fell onto other surfaces.

3. Going Outside With Wet Hair Causes A Cold

Being the protective dad that you are, you likely require that your kid make her hair dry as a Mormon wedding before they leave the house. They’ll catch a cold! It might make you uncomfortable, but being cold doesn’t actually bring on a cold. Viruses tend to thrive in the winter, but aren’t really communicable via lower temps. You can only catch a cold via exposure to the viruses — and the nice warm daycare center will take care of that.

4. Crossed Eyes Will Eventually Stick That Way

If they don’t cross their eyes, how can they demonstrate what a doofus their younger sibling is? You’ve probably said, “stop or they’ll get stuck that way.” But alas, there’s no evidence it will become permanent — even if your kid gets hit in the back of the head mid-cross. Sure, doing it for extended period of time will cause a strain to your eye muscles, and you could suffer from some spasms or twitches, but they’ll return to normal within an hour or so.

5. Swimming Right After Eating Is Asking For Trouble

Nothing’s more of a summer killjoy than being told you can’t jump back into the pool after lunch because you’ll die. As with any exercise, swimming right after eating a lot could potentially cause a stitch, but it won’t result in any sort of full body spasm that will send you straight to Davy Jones’s Locker.

6. Popping Your Knuckles Causes Arthritis

Obnoxious? Yes. Increasing your odds of developing painful arthritis in the future? No. Several studies have determined there’s no relationship between the habit and increased risk of the disease. You’re not in the clear, however. Cracking knuckles could contribute to reduced grip strength and swollen hands. So if your kid was looking to be the next arm wrestling world champion, maybe tell them to lay off.

7. Sitting Too Close to the TV Will Screw Up Your Eyesight

You grew up being told that the safest distance to watch TV is 2 feet. It was like all parents got together and silently agreed on an arbitrary, eyesight protecting number. This figure, however, stemmed from fears that there was radiation emitting from GE TVs in the 60s. Somehow, it became a hard and fast rule. While tons of screen-time is problematic for a number of reasons, it won’t affect your kid’s eyesight disproportionately.

8. Shaved Hair Grows Back Thicker Than Before

Studies conducted as far back as 1928 have proven that cut follicles don’t grow faster. Why the confusion? Well, perception is everything: Shorn hair tends to appear thicker, darker, and coarser in the short-term. Also, that 13-year-old boy’s mustache is evolving, so yeah, it’s growing back thicker each time he shaves. But just let him have this one.

9. Coffee Stunts Your Growth

There are plenty of good reasons you shouldn’t be caffeinating your kid, but not reaching their full size potential isn’t one of them. Studies show there is no difference in bone gain or density between adolescents with the highest and lowest caffeine intakes. This myth was perpetuated by the now-discredited belief that coffee causes osteoporosis. In reality, reduced milk and calcium intake is the likelier culprit. But, if it’s any consolation, taking away that macchiato isn’t going to help them become a 7-footer, either.

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