Publisher’s Perspective

Chad Koenen

As a parent I have something I need to get off my chest—I sometimes lie to my children. It’s not always intentional. 

After all, it’s my job to pass on the lessons I learned as a child, even if the theories have been proven to be false.  You see, some little white lies have been passed down from one generation to the next. And if we are to make a full mea culpa, parents don’t often actually check whether the lessons we were told when we were children are actually based in sound facts. 

For example, some strange fictional guy who lives in the North Pole does not watch everything you do (though I’ve never used that line before). You don’t actually have to drink eight glasses of water a day. Sugar may not necessarily make kids hyper right before bedtime and there is no such thing as a five-second rule.

One of the most prevalent and often disproven old wives’ tales concerns the need to wait 30 minutes after eating before they go swimming. 

Perhaps this is the old wives tale most frequently used by adults who want to visit with their friends and family members a bit more after eating. As children, we believed the line as fact without so much as questioning our elders. In fact, it may be one of the few times that kids actually listen to adults when on vacation. But did you know, there is little truth to the old line about waiting 30 minutes, or in some cases an hour before swimming.

As early as 1961 pediatricians were doubting this old wives’ tale, but the myth has hung on for all these years. While it is true that when we eat our body diverts blood to the stomach to help with digestion, that doesn’t mean we no longer can move our arms or legs. In fact, the American Red Cross doesn’t include any food warnings in its lengthy swimming and safety guidelines. That being said, even after learning that waiting to swim for 30 minutes after eating wasn’t true, we didn’t exactly let our kids know of the findings­—I mean we were tied on the Fourth of July and needed a quick rest. 

Waiting to swim after eating isn’t the only old wives’ tale that we heard growing up. Here are a couple of other popular sayings you most likely heard that turned out to be proven wrong.

Chewing gum will not stay in your stomach for seven years. While it’s true that the human body can’t digest chewing gum, it doesn’t really get stuck in your body. The Mayo Clinic reassures us that it passes through our system more or less intact and comes out the other end. That doesn’t mean you should still swallow gum, but just don’t worry about gum sitting in your stomach for the rest of your life. 

Cracking your knuckles does not lead to arthritis. Truth is, parents are just annoyed by the noise. According to Cedars Sinai orthopedic surgeon Robert Klapper, M.D., the cracking sound is just nitrogen bubbles in the fluid that lubricates your joins. If, however, you feel pain or discomfort while cracking, that may be a sign of an issue.

For most of my life, and my kids’ lives for that matter, I have been a staunch supporter of the five-second rule in which food items dropped on the floor for less than five seconds could be safely eaten. That is, unless, it falls into a pile of hair or picks up some other crumbs under the table. Turns out, the tried and true five second rule is nothing more than a myth. A high school intern named Jillian Clarke spent most of her summer in 2003 working on experiments at the University of Illinois to prove or disprove this longtime myth. She dropped Gummi Bears and fudge striped cookies onto E. Coli treated floor tiles. The food immediately picked up the contaminated microbes, not after five seconds. That being said, most times food can be safely retrieved from the floor and eaten, but just make sure you have washed your floors in the past month.

We have all heard the old wives’ tale that shaving will make the hair grow back thicker and darker.  As far back as 1923 Mildred Trotter at Washington University in St. Louis disproved this myth. She had three female subjects shave their body hair at different intervals for eight months. In 1928 she repeated the study with four men and found that there was absolutely no increase in the diameter or color of their hairs before or after shaving.

Finally, we have all taken our kids to a birthday party and dreaded picking them up because “they will be all hyped up on candy and sugar.” As it turns out, a 1994 experiment by Daniel Hoover and Richard Milich found that it isn’t so much the sugar, as much as the occasion in which mass amounts of sugar is consumed. For example, the study found that moms and dads were much more likely to classify their kids’ behavior as hyper when told that the kids had gotten buzzed on sugar (when in reality they had just drank a sugar-free placebo). The study found that typically the kids were just as wound up from going to the party, or being with their friends, as opposed to being all hopped up on pixie sticks and Mountain Dew.