4 Threats Your Parents Warned You About That Are Really No Big Deal

Are you sitting up straight right now? Because it seriously does not matter at all
4 Threats Your Parents Warned You About That Are Really No Big Deal

“Our parents told us not to get into cars with strangers, and not to go meet strangers from the internet,” noted one famous joke from when Uber first became a thing. “Now, we get into cars with strangers from the internet.” And not only did rideshare apps become common — they ended up reducing national traffic fatalities by 500 every year. Meanwhile, those parents of ours thought nothing of driving us around after a couple drinks, and it’s pure survivorship bias that none of us died in crashes as a result.

A lot of common fears turned out to be groundless. Thats why you dont really need to worry about such stuff as...


“Sit up straight,” said your parents. If you slouch, you’ll get a hunch, and that will lead to all kinds of problems. You know how dad’s back hurts sometimes? Well, if you slump in your chair (they told us), that’ll happen to you too, except sooner!

Klara Kulikova/Unsplash

Look at her, suffering. She brought this on herself. 

This past decade has been very interesting in the study of posture. We noticed that vast numbers of people have developed bent-over necks, thanks to staring down at their phones all the time. Habitually bending in one direction really does set your body that way, it seems. But then doctors turned to a related question: Does any of that really matter, at all? You obviously don’t want a truly screwy spine that’s twisted in a knot, but what about a mildly bent one, the kind you can develop by standing the wrong way? 

The old hypothesis said bending like that leads to chronic pain. Then we got around to comparing people with straight spines and text-y spines, and we couldn’t find any correlation between rounded posture (“kyphosis”) and pain. Researchers did a bunch of different studies on this, some specifically looking at “text neck,” as well as metanalyses of all the different studies and just couldn’t find a relationship. Certainly, some people with rounded spines feel pain, but it turns out people without those get pain as well. If anything, the belief that bad posture causes pain may contribute more to pain than the actual curving of your spine. 

Side view of the brain and spinal cord

Popular Science

“Pain is all in your head” doesn’t sound helpful, but it’s technically true.

The flipside of this is if you’ve been feeling pain, daily routines designed to “fix your posture” probably won’t help (at least no more so than a placebo). What will help is getting stronger muscles. Doing squats a couple times a week will serve you a lot better than trying to balance a book on your head as you walk.

At least with the neck, posture crusaders had a convincing argument. Bending your head forward puts more pressure on part of the spine, which does sound like it might strain you. But with the back, and with the question of how you should sit, there was never any strong reasoning for sitting straight. Leaning back 135 degrees or so puts less strain on your back than keeping to 90 degrees (which is precisely why it feels more comfortable). The best option would be switching up your position continually, by getting up from your chair when you can, but if you must pick one sitting position, leaning back a little is the way to go.

135 degrees lean


Slumping down and putting your legs up is also fine.

This might sound like new advice as strict as the old advice, but the part that stands out to us is that sitting at 90 degrees, the old ideal, is really the most fatiguing sitting position. In fact, that may be why everyone recommended it, under the assumption that if it’s hard, it must be good for you. We prefer the axiom that if it feels good, it must be good, which isn’t always sound but is a lot more fun to follow. 

Sitting Too Close to the TV

“Don’t sit so close to the television,” your parents said. Do that long enough, and it’ll ruin your eyes. You’ll have to wear glasses, or if you already wear glasses, you’ll need to switch them out for stronger ones. Some parents even shared an old rule of thumb, which said you need to stay at least six times as far from the screen as the TV is tall. 



Dont come measure the screen, though. Thatd mean coming too close, and youvll go blind!

That last rule had some logic to it. It wasn’t about the minimum safe distance, though, but rather the optimal distance for image quality. On an old standard-definition TV, six times the screen height is the right distance because any closer, and you’ll see individual pixels, which breaks the illusion of a continuous image. Any farther, and the picture gets smaller, which is bad in its own way. 

That means with a 40-inch standard-definition CRT television, you should sit 8 feet away. A high-definition 40-inch lets you sit closer. The ideal distance here is 5 feet. If that same size screen has a 4K resolution, you should get even closer and should sit just 3 feet away. 

VR headset

Hammer & Tusk

If the resolution's high enough, a centimeter away is best.

All that is just about image quality, not danger. Sitting too close isn’t dangerous at all. The danger myth says light is hazardous coming out of the TV screen, and if you sit far enough away, it attenuates and can’t hurt you anymore. But we have a word for describing the intensity of light: brightness. Does a TV image look appreciably dimmer from 10 feet away, compared to one foot away? No. So, if light were hazardous up close, it would be hazardous from the chair on the other side of the coffee table as well. 

This myth started because once upon a time, TVs did emit rays that got weaker a few feet away. Back in the 1960s, the light from the TV was as harmless as ever, but the cathode ray tube inside also emitted ionizing radiation. People first worried about this thanks to one particular General Electric TV, which released extra radiation due to a defect. The company recalled 90,000 of these sets to fix them. 

General electric television 1966


Picture this model here, from around the same time.

Then people wondered if even normal TVs might spit out more radiation than anyone wanted. In 1968, the surgeon general declared normal TV radiation to be safe if you stayed six feet away from the front

We aren’t totally sure if sitting closer was ever dangerous (aside from that one defective GE model), but at least people back then had some reason to suspect it was. Kids who heard that grew up and passed along the advice without remembering why it was necessary. They then told their own kids, even after new screens made sure TVs emitted no X-rays and there was now truly nothing to worry about. 

Reading in Dim Light

There was another form of entertainment parents feared could turn us blind. No, we’re not talking about masturbation — we’re talking about reading without enough light. We might be betraying our age here, as not everyone has memories of reading books next to a dim bulb / sorting parchment by candlelight, but parents very much feared that this would lead to a lifetime of prescription lenses. 

round glasses

Arun Prakash

If Harry Potter had an LED lamp growing up, so much suffering could have been avoided.

Reading in dim light can indeed cause eyestrain. But “eyestrain” is just an official word for “your eyes feel tired.” Once you stop what you’re doing for a while, or sleep, it goes away and you’re back to normal. The biggest consequence of reading in dim light is you temporarily feel too tired to go on reading in dim light, so if it’s a problem, it’s one that takes care of itself. 

It’s understandable that someone might think eyestrain is bad for you (look back to our “do what feels good” posturing earlier), but we have no evidence that it leads to shortsightedness, farsightedness or any other long-term change. Still, at least parents didn’t try the other extreme. We can imagine an alternate timeline where parents forced kids to read in the dark the same way they forced them to sit up straight, reasoning that if it’s hard, it must be the right choice. 

night vision


“In time, you will see in total darkness. You’ll be the perfect spy in our war against Oregon.” 

The question of what causes shortsightedness remains a mystery. It’s possible that kids who stay in and read in the dark really are at risk of gaining worse eyesight. But it’s not because the darkness is hurting their eyes. It may be because they’re missing out on the health benefits of playing outside, as well as the psychosomatic confidence of a kid who knows they’re not a nerd. 

Skipping Breakfast

Call up your mother right now and tell her you skipped breakfast this morning. She will scold you. It doesn’t matter how old you are. Tell her you gave up breakfast a while ago and haven’t eaten it once this year, and she may never speak to you again. 

Frosted Flakes


And neither will Tony. Though, that might be the lithium kicking in.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, our parents told us. Without it, you’ll be starved for energy. And then you’ll be so hungry that you’ll pig out come lunchtime, and you’ll end up gaining a ton of weight. Research has had trouble backing those claims up. 

There’s actually a lot of data saying skipping breakfast is associated with obesity. Only issue is, those studies are observational (we ask a bunch of people if they skip breakfast and how much they weigh) rather than randomized controlled trials (we give some people breakfast and make others skip). When people who eat breakfast happen to be healthier, maybe their chill schedule lets them have a full meal before rushing out in the morning. Anyone like that probably calls all the shots in their life, so they’re separately more likely to eat healthy and exercise. 

Lucky Charms

Th78blue/Wiki Commons

Statistically eating breakfast means you're more likely to have a gym membership.

When you do randomized controlled trials, that’s when you fail to find health benefits of eating breakfast. You just find that people who eat breakfast consume more calories total during the day and go on to gain a bit of weight, because that’s how addition works. 

You’ll still see many articles warning against skipping breakfast. Often, they mention that correlation between skipping breakfast and obesity. One recent CNBC article interviewed a longevity expert who pointed to a study that associated skipping breakfast with depression, and this is the sort of finding our parents would leap on. Except, that study correlated skipping breakfast with depression and also bad sleep quality, in college students. These may all be symptoms of harried schedules or some other factor, rather than bagel deficiency being the cause of it all.

That longevity expert also cites certain “blue zones” around the world, where people live long and regularly eat breakfast. But in those places (Okinawa, Sardinia), they skimp on dinner, so it’s not exactly a fair comparison. Also, they don’t breakfast on bacon and pancakes in those places but rather eat stuff like miso and beans. If you eat miso and beans for your main meal of the day and never eat waffles again, we concede you’ll live long.

Waffles and bacon

Arnold Gatilao

If you can call that living.

“As they say, breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” says that article’s longevity expert. Never trust anyone who says that phrase. It wasn’t created by health experts as a factual statement. It was an advertising slogan composed in 1944 to get people to buy Grape Nuts

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