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'Does gum take 7 years to digest?' and other mom myths

If you're a parent, chances are you've told a little white lie or two to your children. But is there truth to warnings about swallowing gum or sitting too close to the TV? Anne-Marie O'Neill of mom.me reveals the truth behind "mommy myths."

Don’t make that ugly scrunched-up face or it will freeze that way. Swallow watermelon seeds and risk having one grow in your belly.

And the ice cream truck, well, the upbeat tunes it blares through your neighborhood before dinner are really just its way of breaking the sad news to kids that the treats have sold out.

For better or for worse, many of us lay these “mommy myths” on our kids, simply to get through a tough day, curb a gross behavior (we’re looking at you, nose pickers) or to keep them young for just a few more days, weeks or months in today’s kids-grow-up-too-fast world.

“I think in part it’s to stop them (from) doing things you really don’t want them to do and sometimes it’s just to save your own sanity,” says Mom.me’s editor-in-chief, Anne-Marie O’Neill.

“You rip out whatever will work in the moment,” she said. “It’s often something you’ve been programmed and you just reach for it because it’s what your mum said to you.”

A mother to twin 7-year-old boys, O’Neill admits that she too is part of the mommy myth machine. “I’m guilty of a lot of this, I have to confess,” she told fellow mom Natalie Morales on TODAY.

But to set the record straight on our mountain of myths, she chatted with Morales about which tales we tell are straight-up falsehoods.

Among them, O’Neill says, is the one about sitting too close to the TV. “You will not end up cross-eyed or blind,” she said.

Similarly, it will not take seven years to digest swallowed gum, she said. “This is almost one of my favorites cause I hate the look of a little kid chewing gum, so I’ve used it all the time,” O’Neill said. “It will actually, like everything else that doesn’t get digested by your body, come out the next time you go the bathroom,” she said.

Cracking your knuckles won’t make them huge or give you arthritis. “Even though
you don’t like the sound of it, it’s actually not true,” O’Neill said. “It’s not going to hurt you.” The sound, she says, is from the ligaments going over the bone or escaping air.

We asked TODAY Moms Facebook readers to share some of their own myths. Corinne Amato Perez offered:

 “If you do you might have a watermelon grow in your stomach!!!!”

“I don’t think anybody buys this one,” Morales said, and O’Neill readily agreed. “You’ll get an eyeroll out of that one - as soon as they learn about sunlight and air and then there’s all that stomach acid,” she said.

One warning they discussed has some accuracy to it: Don’t lick a metal object outside in the winter or your tongue will stick to it. “That one has a degree of logic to it,” O’Neill says. “So kids, don’t do it, and mums feel good about telling your kids that one.”

As summer winds down, O’Neill debunked the warning against swimming within an hour after eating. “You’re not going to drown, you may cramp,” she says. “That whole hour afterwards, I don’t know if you have ever tried to contain a child who wants to swim for an hour, but it’s hard to do. You don’t have to worry too much about them drowning.”

And for those tweens and teens itching to start shaving, telling them that shaving will only make their leg hair grow back thicker isn’t true. “If you shave your legs, you’re actually cutting the hair about midway down the shaft,” O’Neill says. “And so it looks thicker but it’s actually not thicker.”

Moms offered scores of little white lies they tell their kids, sharing their mixed results on the Today Moms Facebook page.

Nazmiah El-Hajj wrote: “I've told my daughter if you pick your nose your nostrils will get bigger. She blows her nose now. Ha!”

Kathleen Benner wrote that she tells her sons, ages 5, 4, 2 and 2 months, “that they need to give Mommy time to drink her coffee in the morning or I will turn into a "Mommy Monster!" and I always add a "Roarrrrr!!!" for good measure. ;) Works EVERY time!”

But when Debra Chemotti’s son swallowed his gum and “I told him he's going build a Bubble Gum Factory in his belly....He looked at me & said "The Acid in my stomach will dissolve it....Nice try Mom."

Some myths sound harmless, like telling kids that, sorry, your favorite fast food restaurant just happens to be closed on the day you want to go, but others seem a bit scary.

On Facebook, KellyDarryl Preno wrote: “I had such a horrible time keeping my 2 year old in bed so i told her the nite nite sharks come out and swim around the bed and will get her if she gets outta bed and it works.”

Comments like those can give moms (and dads) a bad case of regret.

“I feel for Kelly because honestly, I’ve said some things I’ve regretted the next day,” O’Neill says. “We’ve all been there.

She added: “The psychologists probably wouldn’t recommend it, but who hasn’t said something to their kid like that?”

Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York who always believed as a kid that the crunchy carrots she first loved as a toddler would keep her eyesight perfect for life, though she now needs glasses.

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