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Ken Jennings: Don’t Believe Your Parents

“Because I said So.”  Jeopardy champ Ken Jennings on the myths and warnings parents give their kids.

Don't worry about standing near a window in a thunderstorm, despite parents' warnings, says Ken Jennings. (Bahman Farzad/Flickr)

Don’t worry about standing near a window in a thunderstorm, despite parents’ warnings, says Ken Jennings. (Bahman Farzad/Flickr)

Parents with kids come fully loaded with instructions, passed down from who knows where.  No swimming for an hour after lunch!  Don’t crack your knuckles, you’ll get arthritis!  Don’t cross your eyes, they’ll stay that way!  But how much of that stuff is true?  And how much is just hanging around from some medieval flash of misinformation?

All-time Jeopardy champ Ken Jennings is re-emerging as a kind of judge of folk wisdom and tidbits.  He’s tested a hundred-plus pearls and duds of advice passed down by moms and dads.

This hour, On Point:  Ken Jennings goes true/false on what parents tell their kids.

-Tom Ashbrook


Ken Jennings, author of Because I Said So!: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids.  You can find an excerpt here.

From Tom’s Reading List

USA Today “There were so many that I always assumed were true, but I guess for me it was the thing about drinking eight glasses of water. That was like a Bible verse for me growing up.”

Christian Science Monitor “Parents always tell children eager to watch storms to stay away from windows while lightning is flashing. Technically, they’re right – Jennings says that lightning can go through a window that’s closed, and there’s often metal on a window, which can electrocute you. However, while it’s never a bad thing to be on the safe side, Jennings says there are only about 300 lightning mishaps a year in America. That puts chances of you being hurt by a storm at what is actually one in a million.”


Check out this trailer for Because I Said So.

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  • Shag_Wevera

    I’m not the all time winningest Jeopardy contestant, but the things I warn/advise my children about are done from my heart with the best of intentions.  I’d prefer Mr. Jennings find something better to do than telling my children I am wrong and should be ignored.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1353444898 Karen Hanron

      No need to take it so personally. He brings up good points. If they don’t apply, let it go. He’s not attacking you. 

      • JMQuinn

        He’s also not a doktah!  I think head injuries should be taken seriously.  Natasha Richardson might still be alive if she had sought out medical care for her head injury while skiing.  Took a nap instead.  Hmmm….

  • http://onpoint.wbur.org/about-on-point/sam-gale-rosen Sam Gale Rosen

    Ken’s first lab assistant in this video appears to be Maria Semple, who appeared on our show to talk about her very funny novel, “Where’d You Go Bernadette.”  On Point connections!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/436PVYQCH5P23MAODJMDC632OA nj

    I’m a parent. While I won’t be telling my kid to run with scissors, it’s good to separate myth from fact. 

  • Davesix6

    Loved watching Ken Jennings run on Jeopardy!

  • ToyYoda

    What about chicken noodle soup?  Does it really help you recover from a cold?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/YMV2HJ2TBKMCN2QRAVI3I2OOGM Jim Jim

    once, as children,  I accidentally put a pencil in my sisters eye while we were playing. A year later she was shot between the eyes with a bb gun.  while not EXACTLY the same thing as scissors, the fears are well founded.

  • AC

    my father was a statitician. he would lecture us-for hours- until he some how statistically proved that running around barefoot outside at 6 or 7yrs old, would lead to a future where i was drug addicted, pregnant teen locked up in jail.
    i wish he had mentioned running with scissors instead…:P

    • Robert Berube

      Probably a spurious regression. You should have tested the data for stationarity ;). 

      • AC

        too bad i couldn’t think of that when i was 6. mostly i squirmed in the chair and prayed my mother would interfere….

  • Chris Sterling


    Ken is wrong!  Inspired by the exact same episode of Seinfeld, Mythbusters DISPROVED the double-dip myth. See Episode 116. They basically found that the amount of amount of microbes present after double dipping was negligible compared to the amount found in regular dip.

  • Roy-in-Boise

    When my oldest daughter was a little kid she loved to jump on the bed. We used to tell her that she was going knock her teeth out… One quiet Sunday morning an ear splitting scream came from her bedroom that shook our whole house! … Sure as can be she had knocked one of her teeth out.
    Fortunately it was just a loose baby tooth. She is now married and very mature law student who hasn’t jumped on the bed in years and has a full smile. :) 

    • hennorama

      Fun story there Roy, but I find myself a tad sad that your daughter no longer jumps on the bed.  The reason is that when we restrict ourselves to “adult” activities, we tend to lose the joy we had in childhood .  For example, when was the last time you ran, just for the sheer fun of it?

      Personally, I highly recommend jumping in puddles, jumping for joy, running for no particular reason, bouncing on beds, skipping stones, stepping on cracks, throwing rocks, and all sorts of other stuff that most adults no longer do.  There’s too little fun and joy in our lives already, and a little bit of childish activity can go a long way to alleviate that deficit.

      Now there’s a deficit that truly needs to be reduced.

      • JMQuinn

         I’m predicting a broken hip in your future.

        • hennorama

          I’d gladly trade a future broken hip for the sheer joy of splashing through rainpuddles, jumping for joy, running around like a crazy person and all the other simple things one can do to lead a joy-filled life.

          Do something silly today – your psyche will thank you for it.

  • Silpa89

    I believe I just heard that Ken say that the myth about double dipping isn’t a myth but very true.  The MythBusters tested this in one of their episodes and found the effects of double dipping to be menial and relatively harmless.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Baltusavich/14227348 David Baltusavich

      Seriously – didn’t Ken say “10 bacteria per dip”? – more bacteria are landing on the dip from the air than that.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/CEVEQ5PMAPTUS5NXZ2RH53DOYE ChristopherC

    My sister and I used to eat dry pasta as kids. Our mother would tell us that it would give us worms. We never bought it, but I wonder where that tail might have come from. Additionally my father used to tell me and my brothers that we would get cancer from punching each other! Didn’t buy that one either. 

  • ToyYoda

    Well, you might not want to eat yellow snow.

  • L urban

    How I remember sitting on the deck of the family pool with a wristwatch counting down those last few minutes until the half hour had passed.  We did not risk diving in until the last second ticked away.

    By the way, Ken, I LOVED your book MAPHEAD.  Changed the way I think about geography.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Baltusavich/14227348 David Baltusavich

    Chicken Pox vaccines do NOT convey life long immunity.  Booster shots are required and even then are not as effective as getting the “real” chicken pox.

    • keltcrusader

      But the vaccine does not leave the virus in your system to reactivate as shingles when you are an adult. Getting “real” chicken pox carries real risk which is why vaccines were developed.

      • JMQuinn

        Which is why you should get a shingles vaccine if you had chicken pox.

        • keltcrusader

          yes, but it isn’t recommended before age 60 and I got shingles at 44. It was very painful and you can’t get the shingles vaccine with an active case. Took a several weeks to clear completely up with treatment. I also found out that people with compromised immune systems that cannot be vaccinated can develop shingles or bell’s palsy if exposed to chicken pox. So people who have “pox parties” can expose the public during the 2-3 week contagion period at the grocery store, post office, etc. if they drag their children though the public sphere during that period. Not cool at all! 

  • http://www.facebook.com/drpmeade Paul S Meade

    Ken is wrong on shingles. Shingles is a reactivation of the chicken pox (zoster) virus that has been dormant since infection during earlier exposure. That is why they are recommending the booster vaccine for Varicella zoster to prevent shingles

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Baltusavich/14227348 David Baltusavich

    As a parent to six, I know well the knee-jerk responses that we internalize as kids and then regurgitate with our own kids.  Every parent needs to guard against these – think before you speak!  The irony is that kids clearly remember many of these things even when we assume they aren’t listening; they make our baseless fears their own.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/6OBVT6HL7WVRIZFDSWPOZND53Q Ashley

    My mom used to tell me that if I didn’t wear a coat, I would catch a cold.  Is that true?

    • Robert Berube

      Used to tell you? Hell, my mom still tells me that.

  • jim_thompson


    Very entertaining program.  Growing up in the sixties and seventies in the Boston area we were always told by priests and some adults that “self gratification” would lead to either blindness or acne.  You can only imagine what I thought when I’d see kids with acne or a blind person.  My parents never said that to us, but the thought of talking sex would make me blind or make me break out.

    Jim in Fort Mill,SC

  • http://diagnosisdiet.com/ Dr. Ede

    Yes, 100% true that studies of sugar and ADHD symptoms, conducted in the 1980′s and 1990′s were unable to find a link between the two.  However, since refined carbs of most kinds (fruit juice, flour, corn starch, white potato, etc) turn into simple sugars in the body, and none of these studies removed all refined carbs, it’s hard to know what the truth is about simple sugars and ADHD symptoms.  All studies compared sugar to artificial sweeteners (aspartame or saccharin) and did not manipulate other aspects of diet.  Since a thorough meta-analysis was published in JAMA in 1995 concluding that all the sugar studies were negative, there have been no studies of sugars/carbs in ADHD since.  I think it is plausible that refined carbs may be a culprit and deserve to be tested.

    • JMQuinn

      What about the Dr. Feingold Diet?  He was looking for a way to control asthma in children and eliminated Aspartame, food dyes and food flavors from their diets. I’m not sure what it did for their asthma but it apparently helped considerably with their ADHD.

      Our food is no longer “food.”  Read the label on a Pop Tart.


      • http://diagnosisdiet.com/ Dr. Ede

        Hi JM. Good question. From a new review by Millichap and Yee: “Controlled studies failed to confirm the effectiveness of the diet to the extent claimed. Nevertheless, a small subgroup of preschool children responded adversely to additives and preservatives administered as a challenge. An occasional child might react adversely to dyes and preservatives in foods and
        might benefit from their elimination.” Pediatrics 2012;129:1-8.

        My own take on this is that any individual can experience ADHD symptoms in response to a specific food, whether natural or artificial, and that personalized experimentation is well worth it. There are some foods that are more likely than others to cause problems, and I’m currently writing a series of 3 blog posts about this very thing (two down, one to go!)


  • http://www.facebook.com/jscallen Jonathan C Allen

    Throughout recorded history, (and probably before) societies have come up with rules to safeguard their populace. Advice given in the Old Testament, Talmudic guidance and even Astrology looks to be based on what were the limitations of the times. (Children born in certain months were more likely to have certain vitamin deficiencies in the womb, etc.). Although a lot of these limitations have since gone away, it can still be safer to follow these rules than not (shellfish harvested in summer are still more likely to contain red tide, etc.).
    A new twist can also change the severity of the rule (toothpaste with Triclosan is worse to swallow than just Floride, etc.).

  • Scott B

    Chewing ice cubes actually can cause micro-fissures in the tooth surface, giving a place for the bacteria that cause cavities a toehold. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/neil.malek.1 Neil Malek

    Tom, speaking of evidence how about the ultimate myth, the existence of a God.  Are people willing to re-examine these old theories through the prism of science, but not with regard to religion?

  • AnnieinSB

    What? Ring-around-the Rosies goes back to the 50s!?  I grew up in England in the 40s and we sang it back then!!!

  • hennorama

    Oops – I mistakenly believed “Because I said So” was a political discussion about Mr. Romney’s commentary on his tax proposals.

    In the first Presidential debate, Mr. Romney said “I’m not looking for a $5 trillion tax cut. What I’ve said is I won’t put in place a tax cut that adds to the deficit. That’s part one. So there’s no economist can say Mitt Romney’s tax plan adds 5 trillion (dollars) if I say I will not add to the deficit with my tax plan.”

    In other words, “Because I say So.”

    My mistake – sorry for taking up everyone’s time.

  • hennorama

    Children definitely take things literally, to which I can attest with some embarrassment.

    I grew up in an area that was ethnically and racially homogenous, and rarely left that area when I was a young child.  I often heard my parents and other adults make references to “colored people.”  One day, when traveling outside my “home base,” my mother made a remark to me about “the colored man over there.”  I looked around and saw only a man with brown skin, and was confused.  “What colored man?” I asked, and my mom referred to the brown-skinned man I had seen.  I remained puzzled.

    My confusion was because I thought “colored” people would be rainbow-hued, like the Crayola crayons I loved so much.  I was quite disappointed to discover my misconception.

    • Ray in VT

      When I was a kid my dad used to say “You can take that and shove it up Tody’s a**” (he could be quite blue), so one day I asked him “who’s Toby?”, and he was at a loss for words.

  • keltcrusader

    Ring-around-the-rosies dates back to the Black Plague era in the 1300-1600′s!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=686519255 Daniel Healy

    If you need help, go to a policeman. They’re here to help you. Oh boy… Or, go to a priest! Or, go to a coach! Or, join the Boy Scouts! Ouch!

    • JMQuinn

      When my son was a teenager, I was telling him that when I was a kid, the police were your “friend.”  A while later he came into the kitchen and said that he and his friends never thought of the police as friends and if they were in trouble, calling the police would be the last thing they would do “because they would probably try to arrest us for something…”

  • JMQuinn

    When I was six, I thwarted my own potential kidnapping because my mother told us to never go with anyone even if they said they would buy us an ice cream cone.  The man said “ice cream cone” and I said “no.”  He did kidnap and molest another child.  I’ve always thought my mother was quite responsible to teach us this lesson. 

    I’m of the generation who waited an hour after eating before going swimming.  During the polio epidemic, we had to take naps every day. Back in the ’50′s women were in the hospital for two weeks after they gave birth. My mother said they could sit on the edge of the bed and “dangle their legs.”  By the time they did get up,  they could barely walk.

    I do think all head injuries should be taken seriously.  Natasha Richardson might still be alive if she had sought out medical care after she hit her head skiing.

    In my opinion, the worst thing parents do is instill the fear of religion in their children. I was raised with religion but didn’t inflict it on my own sons.

  • Ray in VT

    One of the best ones that I’ve ever heard came from my wife’s family.  My mother-in-law’s generation was told by their parents that they couldn’t have soda because some girl had had too much of it, developed a “Pepsi ball” in her stomach and died because of it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brennan-Moriarty/100000655771831 Brennan Moriarty

    I’m queued/skewed by a/the meta “mata” [weeding out the weak links] dissonant… realities, as a sort of haunted-house /ghost post-reality; If a kid is unhappy, other kids -whether “cool kids” or philosophically hardened -rational bullies- recognize the unhappiness, and they reasonably fear “loosing the game [of cultural wisdom]“. and parents might say [to these rare yet modernly diverse ] children Just “IGnore them” =relIGion has a First Name [code], yet we worship norms and kind-normalcy as rules that make us all happy and therefore safe and aware. And parents whether 'cool' or bullies/police... have advanced powers of persuasion. Ultimately if someone _survives_ this level hazing or kid to kid fight or flight message, then we may see them as a demigod [hardened] {dbl Jeopardy? :}. yet how these initially inert monuments react [...waiting...] could cause our dissonance-circuits (^*&#%) to magnify the psychological and minimize the facts. But if we have irrational challenges -"believe..." [seen as Politically Correct] to irrational existence -this is the "rare case" cognormative-dissonance- as monuments to battles won or lost, spun or Cost?! none or ...boss? these may LOOM up! in the monotheistic ...pantheon [there's a contradiction for everyone], and well...,... we can eXpect the church to sit on their Fat... AS IF nothing was wrong, for if god really exists, he'll show up soon enough and... perform Miracles! [or do battle -defending ON witch environment we fake: or Flight "we" Make].

    Oh, the spicy! [salty] "pickle and curd"? or DAIRY yogurt? sounds like heartburn that you could & aught to wisely do without.

  • http://twitter.com/jiao_tu Winston

    So what is this about The Hobbit and 48 fps? Just caught the small blurb of that but no explanation.

  • Nick98989

    I’d never heard the thing about Koreans believing that illness and worse can be caused by being in a room with a fan on, because it “chops up the air molecules,” but I immediately thought of what I understand is the positive ionization of air caused by things like fans through friction.  Positive ions are bad for you, negative ions (such as are produced by natural phenomena like waterfalls and by negative air ionizers, which can be purchased — I’ve used them for years) are good for you.  Inhabitants of some dry and windy regions have been shown to have higher suicide rates, and a connection is likely, because depression is one effect of negative ion depletion.  The passenger area of a car is also such a place, because the friction caused by the movement of the air against the exterior draws any negative ions inside to the interior surface, leaving you breathing the depleted air and feeling tired and lousy.  So there may be a shred of truth to this after all, and I would certainly not scoff at Koreans who are wary of fans, at least where there isn’t also a negative air ionizer to counter the effect.

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