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Mama wasn't always right: 9 updated health rules

  • Story Highlights
  • Clean plates are misleading-- let kids stop eating based on appetite, not plate
  • Children can't harm their eyes by sitting close to TV, but can get headaches
  • Mom was right about this: Reading in the dark can cause eyestrain
By Anna Roufos
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Parenting.com

Now that you have kids, you've probably realized that there was actually some sense behind all that advice your mother gave you.

There is a lot of sense behind some of mama's advice, but other adages are not quite right.

There is a lot of sense behind some of mama's advice, but other adages are not quite right.

Maybe you can thank her for your perfect posture (even though it took 4,567 reminders to stand up straight) or for insisting on all those family dinners. Then again, some things need not be passed down to yet another generation. Take a look.

Mama always said: Eat more! Kids are starving!

That's true, but probably not in your house. The clean-plate club isn't where it's at anymore. It's important to give kids the chance to stop eating based on appetite, instead of external cues like an empty bowl, says Marilyn Tanner-Blasiar, a pediatric dietitian at Washington University School of Medicine. It helps them stay attuned to their feelings of satiety.

When they lose that connection, the risk of becoming overweight goes up. But moms wouldn't be moms if they didn't worry about their kids' food. It's never going to be easy to let go, but if you give them healthy options and allow them to eat when they're hungry and stop when they're full, the rest will take care of itself.

Mama always said: Don't sit so close to the TV -- you'll ruin your eyes

Actually, you won't, and neither will your kids. According to the American Optometric Association, children can't harm their eyes by sitting with their noses practically pressed against the flat-screen. Watching close-up, however, may cause eyestrain, which can lead to headaches, says Dr. Vincent Iannelli, a Dallas, Texas, pediatrician.

Eyestrain doesn't worsen vision, but it's not comfortable, either. For healthier viewing, remind your children not to watch in total darkness -- the sharp contrast between the room and the TV can worsen strain -- and have them plop down about ten feet away. But if you have a child who's always sitting really close, she may be having a hard time seeing. Ask her to scooch to a more normal distance, and if she can't see the screen clearly, get her eyes checked.

Mama always said: Don't read in the dark

Smart thinking. Just as watching TV in a black void can cause eyestrain, so it goes with reading in low light, says Cathy Doty, a pediatric optometrist in New Bern, North Carolina. And if kids keep it up for long periods (like your voracious reader, who sneaks in extra chapters with a flashlight under the covers), it can lead to intermittent blurred vision and headaches.

All of these symptoms resolve with rest, but this behavior can speed the onset of nearsightedness in kids who are genetically predisposed, says Doty. To protect their peepers, make sure kids have at least 60 watts of light to read under and encourage them to keep books (and computer screens) at arm's length and to take frequent breaks. Parenting.com: Moms' dirty little secrets

Mama always said: Don't frown, you'll get wrinkles

Yep, you might. Furrowing your brow millions of times over your life can leave a line or two eventually. So can laughing. There's no way to avoid it, nor any reason to try.

Our facial muscles move to express emotion. And without those muscles, we couldn't eat, drink, smile, or kiss. The best way to help protect your kids' future faces and skin from head to toe? Load them up with SPF and keep on encouraging all the healthy stuff you already do: Try a vegetable. Run outside and play. And most of all, have fun! Parenting.com: 12 parenting rules you can break

Mama always said: Sit up straight

Good one, Nana. Slumping over puts major pressure on the neck, shoulders, and back, not to mention that it keeps the lungs from completely filling. But constantly scolding kids to correct their posture is frustrating. Instead, try to keep your kids active, says Patrice Winter, a physical therapist and assistant professor at George Mason University. It will give their muscles the strength needed to maintain alignment -- without nagging!

Mama always said: That music is too loud

It probably is. If you have a kid who goes nowhere without her iPod, there's a good chance she's rocking her way to some hearing loss later, says Dr. Craig Derkay, professor of otolaryngology and pediatrics at Eastern Virginia Medical School. If she likes her tunes loud, ask her to take a break every 20 minutes or so. You can also consider springing for noise-canceling headphones: They drown out background sounds, so she'll be less tempted to turn it up.

Mama always said: We're having dinner together because that's what families do

She was onto something. Kids are more likely to eat a balanced meal when the family dines together, says Kathleen Burklow, a clinical psychologist in Cincinnati, Ohio. And it's an all-around great way to connect. Don't stress if you can't do it every night (who can?); instead, make the most of the time you have. Parenting.com: 7 snacks that won't spoil dinner

If you always get the same one-word responses, have the kids ask you questions about your day. Or come up with a few very specific questions for everyone to answer, like what made you laugh today? What was the nicest thing someone did for you today? What was the nicest thing you did? You might be surprised at how much you actually hear.

Mama always said: Eat your breakfast

Pass it down. There is no doubt that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Studies have proven that children who eat an a.m. meal perform better in school. Plus, many breakfast foods are excellent sources of calcium, iron, and fiber, all of which tend to be lacking in many children's diets. If your kids are picky breakfast eaters, have them grab a handful of raisins, some dry cereal, or even some leftover pizza to nibble on when they're ready. Parenting.com: 13 rise & shine breakfast ideas

Mama always said: Put on a coat, you'll catch a cold

The only thing your kid is likely to get from being outside in the cold is... cold. "When I was growing up, my grandmother insisted I bundle up in even slightly cold weather because 'getting cold could make you sick,'" says Sue Stevens of Arlington, Texas. "I knew from my school health class that she was wrong and that germs make you sick. I let my own son play in the rain, sleep under a ceiling fan, and play soccer in short pants in freezing weather. He never had colds afterward!" That's because only cold and flu viruses cause those illnesses.

There is some research that suggests that prolonged exposure to chilly temps may dampen the immune system because it puts a strain on the body. But that's not the same as making you sick. So if your kid wants to tough out the chilly season in his skimpy but oh-so-hip hoodie, save yourself the fight. Let him! Parenting.com: Take a break! 30+ easy ways to pamper yourself

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Copyright 2009 The Parenting Group. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

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