If you’re a baby boomer, chances are you were fed a certain amount of misinformation while growing up. Sometimes, it was a supposed fact our parents thought was true. Or they just said whatever it took to get us to mind—and we believed them.
Whatever the motivation, now that we’re adults, it’s time we put certain myths to bed once and for all. So let’s set the record straight on these faux facts still in circulation:
- You can catch a cold from sitting in a draft or going outside with wet hair
This one drives me nuts. Colds are caused by viruses, people. The only way to catch a cold is to come in contact with those viruses. Period.
- Masturbation causes blindness, impotence, infertility, mental illness and/or hair to grow on your palms
Given the litany of maladies that supposedly can befall you from getting yourself off, you’d think there was something seriously wrong with it. But except for the guilt that’s been drilled into our heads (by parents, nuns, bible-thumpers, etc.), there’s no real downside to the practice.
In fact, our body parts (including those “down there”) work better if they’re used, whether with a partner or not. In fact, many urologists will tell guys that regular sexual activity (with or without a second party) is good for the prostate gland. And, BTW, if your eyesight gets worse as you age, it’s not because you pleasure yourself (nor is it because you read in low light or sat too close to the TV as a kid—see next two items).
- Reading in the dark will damage your eyesight
Nope. It might strain your eyes and give you a headache, but it won’t cause lasting damage. But at our age, who the hell can read in low light anyway?
- Sitting too close to the TV can ruin your eyesight
This too may cause eyestrain, but it won’t cause permanent damage either. In fact, with their young eyes, kids can focus on close-up objects better than adults. By middle age, however, we start experiencing presbyopia—farsightedness caused by loss of elasticity in the eye’s lens (hence our need the hold the menu at arm’s length and have readers all over the house).
- Don’t swim for an hour after eating or you’ll get stomach cramps and drown
Wrong. This is evidently based on the (unfounded) belief that the process of digestion “steals” blood needed to keep your arms and legs pumping during swimming. Sure, the body supplies some blood to aid digestion, but not enough to prevent you from doing the backstroke. So all that sitting on the sidelines, longingly watching your friends romp in the water right after lunch, was for naught.
- Birds will abandon babies if a human touches them
As a kid, I remember finding a baby bird on the ground and wanting to return it to the nest. But my mom told me the mother bird would just kick it out again if she caught a whiff of my human scent, so I should let it be. That myth is for the birds. According to Frank B. Gill, former president of the American Ornithologists’ Union, birds don’t readily abandon their eggs or their young, especially not in response to human touch. So rescue away.
- Bats are blind
Au contraire. They don’t see in color (not sure how scientists know this), but at night they see a reported three times better than humans. And they’re also able to locate objects by reflected sound (echolocation). So calling someone “blind as a bat” is actually a compliment, sort of.
- Cracking your knuckles causes arthritis
According to Harvard Medical School’s Healthbeat newsletter, knuckle cracking may aggravate people nearby, but it doesn’t cause arthritis. This conclusion comes from several studies comparing rates of hand arthritis among people who regularly cracked their knuckles and those who didn’t. It’s still a habit worth dropping, however: research also found chronic knuckle-crackers were more likely to have swollen hands and reduced grip strength.
- Poinsettias are lethal to kids and pets
Like Santa Claus and flying reindeer, this too is a myth. If poinsettia leaves are ingested, they can cause mild nausea and vomiting. But it would take hundreds of leaves to cause poisoning—and most pets and children wouldn’t eat that much because the leaves contain a sap that irritates tissues in the mouth and esophagus. Everything in moderation, right?
- Blondes are dumb
On the contrary. Researchers report that the stereotype of the “dumb blonde” is, well, dumb. In fact, they not only found women and men with natural blonde hair to have IQ scores similar to those with other hair colors, but also that women with natural blonde hair actually had a slightly higher average IQ score than those with other-color coifs (although the difference wasn’t statistically significant). The researchers found no genetic links between hair color and intelligence, but did find blondes were more likely to grow up in homes with more reading material. So hold the blonde jokes.
The takeaway from all this?
Older, we see things
more clearly, especially
when we wear glasses.
So what about you? Are you surprised by any of these myths? Are there other “faux facts” you grew up believing? If you’re a parent, what “stories” have you told your kids to influence their behavior? How many of you looked at your palms after reading #2? Please share!
You can read more of my humor here.