“Don’t drink coffee until you are 20 years old or you won’t grow up to be tall and strong.”
Barbara Meyer (my mother)
Perhaps Ken Jennings is best known for being the record holder for winnings on Jeopardy ($2.52 million). But now he has written his third book titled,“Because I Said So; The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids (2012).”
In his book, Jennings has compiled “125 of the nagging Mom and Dad-isms that we all grew up with.” To the best of his ability he has researched them and renders a verdict of “True” or “False.” For some of them he acknowledges that the truth is not absolute.
You will not find in this book propositions that cannot be tested scientifically by doctors, research, etc. For example, whether watching too much TV is harmful is still widely debated even after being around for 60 years.
Jennings also gathers what he calls “parental nagging” from other cultures. In Korea, they aren’t allowed to sleep with an electric fan in their rooms because a fan, they are told, will somehow asphyxiate them while they sleep. Filipino children are told not to wear red when it’s stormy, because red clothing attracts lightening.
Who of us has not heard our parents say things like this: wait an hour after eating to swim; if you cross your eyes they may stay that way; don’t go out into the cold because you might get sick.
Jennings does cite studies showing that cold, wet feet might help cause a cold and hot chicken soup can fight one. I was surprised when we were in Finland a few years ago, however, that mothers there regularly place their babies outside on the porch in bitter cold weather. Yes, they do bundle them up but they want them to breathe fresh, cold air.
One of the most interesting examples Jennings gives in his book involves lollipops. He describes the time his young son, Dylan, came running around a corner with a grape Tootsie Pop in his mouth. “‘Whoa, slow down!’ I said. ‘What if you tripped and fell on your face? The lollipop stick would get jammed right through the roof of your mouth!’ Dylan’s eyes got wide, ‘Could that really happen?’”
Jennings admits he had no idea. His mother told him that repeatedly while growing up and now he was repeating it. In his words, “What do you do when a nine year old calls your bluff?”
He did check with his mother to back him up and she said she had no idea. She said, “That’s what Grandma used to tell us.” His mother went on to say she thought it may have come from some novel.
“I was horrified,” Jennings writes. “A fact I confidently passed along to my trusting children turned out to be a third-hand rumor confirmed only by a novelist... What else had I inadvertently been misleading them about?” I know he must be smiling when he says, “That’s the dirty secrets of parenting: It’s a big game of telephone stretching back through the centuries and delivering garbled, well-intended medieval bromides to the present. Possible misinformation like the lollipop thing never gets corrected; it just goes into hibernation for a few decades and then jumps out to snare a new generation, like a 17 year old cicada.”
So is there really danger in sitting too close to the TV or eating toothpaste or sneezing with your eyes open or even running with scissors? If you must know the answer, this book will help you.
But what about my mother’s counsel, “No coffee ‘til you’re 20 or you won’t grow up to be tall and strong.” Actually, I didn’t drink coffee until I was 20. But since I stand about five feet seven inches, I have always wondered how tall I would be if I had drunk coffee before I was 20.
Think about it.
Dr. Don Meyer is the president ofValley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville.
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