Grown-ups’ rules that baffled

When I was growing up, adults would often say the strangest things, without elaborating and really explaining what they meant. One of the comments that was regularly made was, “Don’t sit on the concrete! It will give you piles!”

Well, I rather enjoyed sitting on the concrete, especially when the concrete was warm and you could feel that lovely sensation spread through your nether regions. I had no idea what piles were! Was it some mysterious disease, some awful growth that would form on your bottom? It all sounded rather absurd to my young brain and it was one of the many pieces of wisdom or wives’ tales that I rejected out of hand.

Another piece of craziness was the advice to eat all the crusts on your sandwiches to “make your hair grow curly”. What if you didn’t want curly hair, thank you very much?

“Eat your vegetables. There are starving children in Africa who would appreciate that meal” was bandied around in many homes in Melbourne in the 1950s and `60s – a bit of emotional blackmail that rarely worked. Most of us realised that Africa was too far away to send the meal and it would go off long before it got there.

As television arrived in Australia, we were cautioned severely not to sit too close to the screen and to not spend too much time watching or we would end up with “square eyes”. The notion was ridiculous and dismissed by all my friends as we pored for hours over the latest Father Knows Best episode or swooned over one of the young boys in The Mickey Mouse Club (or girl, as your preference lay).

As we got older, the advice seemed to become even more bizarre. As girls, we were sternly advised not to wash our hair when we had our period and the boys were soundly told that if they kept playing with themselves, they would go blind!

Why couldn’t adults properly explain what they meant? But, of course, that was not the way of my childhood. And to question the wisdom of adults was frowned upon greatly.

I think I realised at the time that all of these rules were to do with controlling behaviours, with the sense that children were somehow teetering on the edge of savagery and anarchy. Maybe we were. My generation, as we became teenagers, were admonished for having long hair, for wearing mini skirts and tight jeans, for gyrating wildly and suggestively to rock and roll music and for marching against the Vietnam War, carrying banners saying ‘Make love not war’. All very pernicious and dangerous behaviour to an adult generation founded on conservatism and control.

Many of these rules I saw as stupid and nonsensical, leading me to a healthy scepticism and cynicism towards adults. Like most people, I found my own way of interpreting the world around me, for making decisions that were sometimes good and sometimes bad.

But now I find myself squarely on the other side of the fence, an adult, an old adult even. Am I now looked upon as an unreliable source of ideas and information too? Perhaps you need to chat with my children and my grandkids …

What bizarre ‘rules’ did your parents insist on? Did you have trouble trying to understand some of the instructions? Or did you just do as you were told?

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