Like many of you, I was told things as a child that I had no reason to question. I accepted without question things said by my mother, father, aunt or uncle and my teachers.
Most of us were raised to believe that adults, especially parents, knew best. But, as you became older, you learned that not all that was told to you was true. While I am not indicating that it is correct, you know that children ask many questions and in many instances, some adults found that it was easier to tell untruths; untruths that it seems have been passed on from one generation to another.
Think back in the day to your childhood and join with me as I resurrect some of those things that you were told but learned later in life, just were not true.
You must recall as a child, how we all look forward to the appearance of a rainbow. Because rainbows did not appear often, they seemed to be magical. There are many stories regarding rainbows, in particular the role that leprechauns played in the pot of gold legend. But, it was what we were told by our parents relative to rainbows that is relevant to this column. Now, tell me that you were not told by your mother or father that there was gold at the end of the rainbow. I know that I was told this story and on several occasions had thoughts of attempting to travel to its end to secure the gold.
I eventually learned that lots of people ended up stymied as they made this pursuit to locate the pot at the end of the rainbow, thus establishing that this story, told to me by my parents, just was not true. Now, this is only one of many stories told to me by my parents that turned out not to be true.
So, did you ever ask your parents the source of chocolate milk? I know that someone reading this column was told that chocolate milk came from brown cows; and, strawberry milk came from pink cows even though some of us had never seen a brown or pink cow.
Adults telling falsehoods to children has been the subject of considerable research and has an interesting history. This practice has been described as a teaching method for children to explain technical or complex subjects.
Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart in a 1994 book, “The Collapse of Chaos: Discovering Simplicity in a Complex World,” and also an article in the same year, “Figments of Reality,” discuss their belief that telling lies to children is necessary in telling complex stories to children. This approach is an easy way to help limited minds grasp complex stories. Others have written books and conducted research expressing similar views. Bottom line, “lies-to-children” a term coined for telling children falsehoods is a simplified way that makes it easier for children to grasp complex ideas. Others who have studied this matter point out that parents will make up any lie and treat it as fact if it means that they are protecting their children from harm. It also serves to get children to go away and give parents some peace of mind and quiet when the matter being discussed involves complex matters. The problem, however, occurs when children go out into the real word and realize that what was told to them is not true. Here is something else you should understand; telling lies, such as those that I have identified and others for which greater detail will be provided, are not superstitions. I make this point as several people that I approached for examples of things they were told by their parents that were not true, immediately identified superstitions. A Google search indicates that there is no one definition of superstition. It generally refers to a belief in supernatural forces such as fate, the desire to influence unpredictable factors and the need to resolve uncertainty. In some ways, being told a lie can be a superstition but not in the context in which these sayings are used in this column.
So, what are some of those other things you were told by your parents, back in the day, that were not true? Does Pinocchio come to mind for any of you? In order to keep children from telling lies, parents told their own lie; if you tell a lie your nose will grow just like Pinocchio’s nose grew. So, what other things did your parents associate with telling lies. Whenever a pimple grew on my gums, I was told that it appeared because I had told a lie.
Then there were those stories about Santa Claus. You constantly heard that you had better be good as Santa was watching you. You were also told that Santa came down the chimney and placed toys under your Christmas tree. Some of you were told that if you were bad, there would be no toys but rather a bag of coal. In order to make this believable, I was told that one of my cousins received a bag of coal for Christmas because he was bad.
Then there were the stories told to us by our parents relative to the “Tooth Fairy” and the “Easter Bunny.”
One of the more difficult discussions parents had with their children was where babies came from. Such discussions were not only difficult but also delicate.
I cannot help thinking about the television commercial where a young boy asks his father this question and he immediately refers him to his mother. So, there was the easy response that quickly got the parent out of an uneasy situation and avoided further discussion. Looking back, while the explanation was corny and was believed during the early stages of our lives, many of us were told that the stork bought babies to our doorsteps, back in the day.
Regardless of your age, most of you can relate to the explanation given to you when it was raining while the sun was out. The response from your parents was that the devil was beating his wife.
Now, if you are “old school,” I cannot imagine that you did not hear this from your parents when you asked for a cup of coffee to drink. I heard this phrase on many occasions and jokingly use it today; that response was that drinking coffee makes you dark or black. I attempted to dig up the origin of this saying without success. Some people believe that it was possibly derived from racist Jim Crow imagery that depicted caricatured Black children drinking from an ink bottle with a milk label. If you were the recipient of this phrase, I doubt if you discontinued the practice of drinking coffee. If drinking coffee really made you dark or black, I have no doubt that lots of white folk would be drinking lots of coffee as opposed to spending time in the sun at the pool or at the beach.
So, what were you told if a bird “pooped” in your hair? I can hear my mother now telling me that I would have good luck. How many of you were told by your parents not to read in the dark? You may recall that you were warned that reading in the dark would make you go blind.
Parents also had an argument to dissuade you from smoking. The argument parent’s used was that smoking would stunt your growth. Some of you enjoyed cracking your knuckles. For many of us, observing or hearing this was annoying. So, could this be why some parents told their children that cracking their knuckles could lead to arthritis.
How many of you were prohibited from taking a bath or a shower during a lightning storm because you were told that the lightning could come through the pipes? While it has been many years since I heard this one, parents would routinely tell their children that they had better not swallow the seeds when eating a watermelon because a watermelon would grow in their stomach.
Then you were warned that touching a toad would result in warts. According to some parents, horseflies came from horses. If you sneezed with your eyes open, some of you were told that your eyes might fall out. If you had the hiccups, it meant that you were still growing. Also, to get rid of hiccups, it was suggested that you hold your breath for 10 seconds.
You may have avoided getting all of your hair cut off as parents told you that your hair would not grow back. So why were you told by your mother or father not to sit close to the television? Most of us did receive this guideline for viewing but we sat very close to the television anyway. Contrary to what our parents told us, none of us lost our eyesight.
Then, there was a practice that some of us followed during our high school and college days. That popular practice was to sleep with your books or test notes under your pillow. Some people thought that this would help us to retain the information needed to pass a test.
I have no doubt that some of you are smiling as you read this column. You can readily relate to the lies that you heard as a child. While you recognize many of these lies, undoubtedly, there are many other untruths that you could include in this column. Remember that there is no need to perpetuate lying to your children when it comes to explaining complex issues.
Also, keep in mind that most children today are walking around with mobile devices where they can access information on any subject that they desire and they will discover the truth anyway. So, no more lies; tell your children the truth as it will make them more well-rounded youth. Avoid the lying to your children as many parents routinely did, back in the day.