"If You Pick Your Nose, Your Eyeballs Will Fall Out" And Other Lies To Tell Children

My parents seemed to get a lot of their "white lie inspiration" from the book "Struwwelpeter," a nightmarish tome written to scare children into not doing such heinous things as sucking their thumbs.
Publish date:
February 26, 2013
lies, children, bad parenting advice

As a child, I was aware that my parents were young -- they had me when they were 20 years old, just babies themselves -- and I was never lied to about things like the little block of resin that smelt like burnt sausages and lived in the dresser, to be broken off every now and again and enjoyed in a roll-up in the garden.

I knew that on my Mum's 30th, they took speed and spent all night running round and round Brighton Pier. I knew that my Dad once took magic mushrooms in a pub garden, wigged out and ran home convinced that the slide in the garden had grown legs and was chasing him home.

In short, I wasn't ever told that drugs were bad, or evil, just to be respected. And respect them I did, for the most part.

I was lucky, as the daughter of pretty liberal parents, that at a house party once when I sort of accidentally did acid and completely freaked out, locking myself in the bathroom in the dark so that I wouldn't be able to see the flames shooting out of the carpet any more, I was able to call my parents for advice.

After telling me I was a bloody idiot, my Dad handed the phone to my stepmum who told me to drink a load of orange juice and put something nice and grounding on the TV, like the news, and that this feeling would indeed pass. I spent the next six hours convinced that Alexandra Burke was morphing into an alien but it did pass, and I was lucky that they were on hand with kind words, and not stern ones.

So I read this piece, about whether or not parents should lie to their children about drug use, feeling pretty smug. My parents hadn't lied to me about drugs. They treated me as an adult, and I was always very appreciative of this.

Or did they? A memory popped into my head.

My thing, when I was really small, was that if we were in the supermarket, or walking in the park, or generally anywhere in public and I saw someone I liked the look of I would lift up my dress or top or coat and expose my little podgy tummy at them.

That was my way of saying "Yep, you're alright, you are. I like you." I then used to stick my finger straight into my belly button and have a little dig around, much to the displeasure of my parents. And so a lie was born -- If you play with your belly button, your bum will fall off!

I believed it wholeheartedly, convinced that should I pop my finger into my innie, my whole bum would fall clean off. Off! Completely off.

Another was that if I were to pick my nose, the pressure of my little fingers up my nostril would cause my eyeball to be pushed out, and dangle in front of my face attached to my head only by a piece of string.

My parents seemed to get a lot of their "white lie inspiration" from the book "Struwwelpeter," which on first look appears to be a jolly rhyme and picture book but in actuality is a nightmarish tome written in 1845 by German psychiatrist Heinrich Hoffman to scare children into not doing such heinous things as growing their hail and nails, or leaving food, or sucking their thumbs.

Each tale has a "clear moral that demonstrates the disastrous consequences of misbehavior in an exaggerated way." Yeah, I'LL SAY. The book is a series of 10 stories, each illustrated by someone who must have clearly been a child-hating psychopath, each story lulling the juvenile reader into a false sense of security before BAM! leaving them a gibbering wreck for life.

Let us take for example perhaps the most terrifying of all -- "The Story of The Thumbsucker." I was partial to a thumb-suck well into school age, which was actively discouraged by my parents but to no avail. They tried everything, telling me that my teeth would be pushed vertically out of my mouth, that my thumb would shrink, but nothing worked. Nothing until Strewwelpetr got involved.

Conrad liked to suck his thumb, too. His mother warned him against it time and time again, the illustrations showing a gleeful Conrad having a whale of a time with his thumb wedged firmly in his mouth, much to his mother's distress. He is having such a great time, sucking that big old thumb of his, until in strides THE SCISSORMAN, all long limbs and gleaming shears in hand, and cuts Conrad's thumbs clean off. The final image is of a very sad looking little boy with no thumbs.

I was convinced that The Scissorman was real until I was about 13.

What are the lies you believed as a child? Have you ever seen a more terrifying book than "Struwwelpeter"? I am literally going to have the worst nightmares tonight.