A childhood friend of mine, as an adult, mentioned eating hot dogs in applesauce and I interrupted her with an incredulous, “You ate what?!” She repeated it as if it were the most normal meal available and I told her it was not a popular choice. She was absolutely convinced that her experience was average and that I had an impoverished childhood, having never enjoyed hot dogs in applesauce.
I was already a licensed psychologist by that time and I assured her that I had a grip on what was normal to feed a child and that her experience was not normal. She did not believe me, despite our more than 30 years of friendship. I insisted I was right and she did the same.
Eventually, we each agreed to survey 50 people about whether or not they had ever had that combination and that we’d let the results of the survey speak for themselves. As she conducted her surveys, she got reactions ranging from disgust to hysterical laughter and she quickly abandoned the survey and just called her mother to ask her what the deal was with that dish.
Her mother calmly explained that when she cooked hot dogs, my friend would burn herself eating them when they were still too hot, rather than waiting for them to cool down. Eventually, the mother learned to put them in cool applesauce to reduce the harm my friend was causing herself.
My friend was appalled. Not only was she going to have to call me and tell me that I was right, she had to accept that a favorite childhood dish of hers was just a goofy technique her mother made up, not something she could reminisce about when other grown children began fondly recalling favorites.
Next my friend confronted her mother about why the mother didn’t just let the hot dogs cool down before giving them to the child. Puzzled, she thought about it for a moment and then remembered that, as a young mother, her own mother had been helping her with her daughter and when the grandmother watched the child burn herself, she confidently suggested the “hot dogs in applesauce” solution and the young mother never questioned it.
It’s unfortunate that the grandmother wasn’t around to ask her where she got it from, but hopefully you still get the picture… Whatever you tell someone, if they respect you and think you know more than them, they’ll believe you, no matter how weird it is what you say.
Children believe in Santa Claus and God because their parents say they exist. They believe in the Boogeyman and The Man with the Golden Arm because their older brother solemnly tells them ghost stories. They believe they aren’t good at math if their 3rd grade teacher says they aren’t. They believe they can’t get pregnant the first time if their older, sophisticated boyfriend tells them that’s true. They believe that marijuana is no big deal if their honor student girlfriend smokes from time to time and maintains straight “A’s.”
Because children, teens, and young adults will believe almost anything said with conviction by someone they admire, it is extremely important that parents, aunts, & uncles, grandparents, teachers, and other role models pay very close attention to the messages they send to children. One off-handed remark could flavor a child’s opinion of himself for the rest of his life. Something meant as a joke could do long-term damage. A bit of flippant advice could get stuck in a child’s psyche until such time as evidence to the contrary becomes overwhelming or six months of therapy, whichever comes first.