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Old Wives vs. New Science

I’m fed up with scientists and their “indisputable findings” and their “absolute truths.” It’s all so vexingly inflexible.

Everywhere you turn there’s another scientific study confirming that everything we know to be true — the conventional wisdom that society has for centuries held sacred — is, in fact, a load of bunk.

Just look at recent headlines. Cough medicine bad for kids.Multivitamins linked to cancer.Vitamin C no match for common cold.

Is nothing sacred to these hypothesis-happy lab dwellers?

I realize they’re just doing their jobs, “saving lives,” “making the world a better place,” et cetera, et cetera. But must they keep undermining my confidence as a parent?

Here’s the thing: We moms and dads are certain of so few things in life. Whether to let our kids express themselves or ask them to keep their voices down. Whether to rescue them from a mean soccer coach or require them to honor their commitment to the team.

There are certain adages, though — not facts, mind you, but age-old aphorisms — that shore up our self-assurance in the kid-rearing arena. They prove that even if we’re not, say, smarter than our kids, at least we’ve logged enough hours on this planet to have a non-slip grip on the vox populi: Bubble gum takes seven years to digest. Coffee stunts your growth. Pop Rocks and Coke make your stomach explode.

Reading in poor light will make you blind. Sitting too close to the TV will make you blind. Reading while sitting too close to the TV will just kill you outright.

But aside from a couple of key points that turn out, miraculously, to be true — basically, don’t stare at the sun and keep the blow-drier out of the bath water — most of our trusty rules of thumb are odiously bogus.

Get this: Hydrogen peroxide is actually not recommended for treating wounds, and the best way to take off a Band-Aid (come again?) is niiiice and sloooow.

Drinking milk does not increase mucus. Brushing hair is not good for it. Feed a cold, but never starve a fever. And go ahead, take a wild leap into the swimming pool right after you eat.

What is this? Bizarro parenting?

It’s anarchy is what it is.

Clearly these mad scientists don’t have children, or they’d know how crucial it is for parents to cultivate a voice of authority, even when we have no idea what we’re talking about. If word gets out that our trusty truisms are nothing more than dusty old wives’ tales, not even an apple a day will keep the backtalk away.

To be fair, though, science does occasionally work in our favor. For years, doctors have been poo-pooing the grandmotherly prediction that if you don’t bundle up in brisk weather, you’ll catch a cold. Two years ago, researchers in Wales finally proved it: Being cold and wet, they said, lowers our immunity, making us more susceptible to viruses.

This should be heartening news for those of us rendered parentally impotent by the distressing hydrogen peroxide smackdown. It means that even if we don’t always know right from wrong, at least our grandmas did.

Remember, then, to stay toasty this winter. Chug coffee, if you like. Plop down with your nose to the TV screen. Swallow bubble gum instead of vitamins. Science condones it.

But if I were you, I’d avoid the Pop Rocks. Just in case.


Published inColumnsParenting
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