The Health Advice Your Parents Probably Got Wrong

If you’re leery of going to bed with wet hair or swimming right after lunch, you probably heard some “mom-isms” (or “dad-isms”) when you were younger.

Recently I found myself delivering one of my own when my three-year-old gave me a cross-eyed look. She thinks it’s hilarious, but I was quick to warn her to uncross her eyes. “They’ll stay that way,” I said sternly, knowing that wasn’t exactly true, but fearing it could do some damage.

Turns out, I was wrong. There’s no proof that crossing your eyes will permanently damage them. I looked it up after she asked me her favorite question, “why?” and I had no good answer for her. That made me wonder about other things our parents and caretakers told us with love and concern for our health and safety, but in reality, we probably don’t need to worry about. Here’s what I found:

Your eyes aren’t as delicate as they seem. Lots of things you heard from your parents about what can damage your eyesight aren’t true. Feel free to sit close to the television, read in a dimly lit room, or try on someone else’s prescription eyeglasses – none of those actions will permanently damage your eyes, although they might give you a headache. However, don’t look directly at the sun. Just as ultraviolet rays can damage your skin, they can also cause cumulative damage to your eyes.

Hate winter hats? Your bare head won’t make you sick. Viruses cause colds and flu, not cold weather. However, recent research does show that immune responses might work better when your body temperature is warmer, so a hat isn’t the worst idea on a cold day. The same theory holds true for going to bed with wet hair. Like a shower before bed? You do you.

Eat when you’re sick. The old advice to feed a cold and starve a fever has little scientific evidence to back it up. Being sick in bed is miserable enough – eat if you are able and definitely try to stay hydrated.

Rethink the hand sanitizer and antibacterial soap. Less a “mom-ism” and more an ever-present item in diaper bags and purses, hand sanitizers and anti-bacterial soaps can kill good bacteria, which could allow undesirable bacteria to grow. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises washing hands with plain soap and running water. If that’s not an option, the agency recommends finding an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol.

Swimming on a full stomach won’t sink you. There’s no evidence that swimming after eating makes it more likely you’ll drown. However, if you’re sipping alcoholic drinks with lunch, you might want to stay in your beach chair. Research has shown that “alcohol consumption significantly increases the likelihood of immersions resulting in drowning during aquatic activities.”

Bask in the glow of your microwave. I mean, if you’re into that sort of thing. The amount of radiation that can escape your microwave is too miniscule to cause any harm, experts say.

Eating dessert before dinner? You’re an adult, so that’s your call, but I think parents everywhere will agree that the “no dessert until you finish your veggies” rule is one with merit.

What are your favorite “mom”- or “dad-isms”? Share them in the comments.

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Photo credit: Dean Wissing

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