17 Things Your Parents Told You That Were Actually Valuable Life Lessons
Even if you're an adult, you should be following these life lessons from parents.
Do parents really know best? If you asked the majority of children, they'd probably tell you no. And we don't blame them—it can be easy to feel that way when you're just a kid and adults seem like unreasonable bosses with demands that don't make sense. But guess what? Those people who raised you were wiser than you ever realized. Here are 17 pieces of wisdom you heard growing up that were actually valuable life lessons from your parents.
"You'll feel better if you clean your room."
Every kid is sure that cleaning their room is only going to make their parents happier. Alas, it turns out the adults were on to something after all. A 2018 survey by Clorox found that people who enjoyed cleaning their homes were 25 percent happier than those resigned to living in chaos. In fact, for every extra hour of house cleaning you do per week, your happiness increases by as much as 53 percent.
"It's good for you to be bored sometimes."
Nothing makes a kid (and sometimes an adult) crazier than having nothing to do. If you thought your parents were being cruel for letting you wallow in that boredom, science disagrees. A 2011 study presented at the British Psychological Society Annual Conference showed that boredom can actually be a huge motivator to make positive changes. "Boredom makes people long for different and purposeful activities," researcher Wijnand van Tilburg told The Guardian. "As a result, they turn towards more challenging and meaningful activities, turning towards what they perceive to be really meaningful in life."
"Dress for success."
As a general rule, kids don't care for fancy clothes. They want to be comfortable, and a tight-fitting suit jacket or formal dress makes them feel like they're trapped. But every time your parents tried to get you into a necktie or pair of slacks, they were really doing you a favor. A 2015 study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science looked at the connection between formal clothing and cognitive ability. When participants were dressed in formal business attire—as opposed to a cozy pair of sweatpants and flip-flops—they did better with test questions involving abstract thinking. (Don't worry, you can still put on pajamas to relax.)
"If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."
It turns out, not being rude does just as much for you as it does for those around you. For a 2011 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers took a closer look at college students who had only nice things to say about their peers. Compared to those who were quick to look for faults in others, these students reported having less depression, better test scores and grades, and more satisfaction with their lives overall.
Kids have a lot of virtues, but patience isn't one of them. Whether it's waiting for a car trip to be over ("Are we there yet?") or counting the days 'til Christmas, children have a problem with delayed gratification. But your parents' insistence that you learn to be patient wasn't just a way to shut you up. Waiting, even if you're forced to do it, actually teaches you the value of patience, according to a 2013 study from the University of Chicago. When you don't get exactly what you want when you want it, you gain appreciation for the things you desire.
"You can do anything you put your mind to."
It sounds like a motivational aphorism only a parent would believe, but there's more than a kernel of real wisdom in here. Visualizing success as a way to accomplish your goals is actually a real thing, backed up by science. As a 2012 study published in the Strength and Conditioning Journal found, strength trainers are able to lift ridiculous amounts of weight not just through practice, but also by imagining themselves doing it first. Once the idea is in your head, you're halfway to achieving your goal.
"You don't have to follow the crowd."
You likely heard this classic line at least once during your childhood: "If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump, too?" Your parents were trying to discourage you from doing something dangerous because of peer pressure, but it's good advice for any age. As psychologist Stephanie A. Sarkis explained in Psychology Today, "When you are in a crowd, you are more likely to behave as others do, even if it is against your own personal belief system." So keep that metaphorical bridge in mind!
"You shouldn't jump into a relationship so fast."
And here you thought your parents just didn't want you to date anyone. It wasn't about a specific boyfriend or girlfriend they didn't like; your parents just intrinsically understood that patience, especially when it comes to love, is a good thing. A 2013 University of Toronto study found that being too quick to jump into a relationship means you're probably going to prioritize having a partner over the quality of your partner.
"Sit up straight."
As a kid, your parents were probably determined to make sure you always had proper posture. What was the point, other than wanting it to look like you went to military school? Well, a 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology found evidence that people who sat up straight in their chairs, with their backs erect and pushing their chests out, were consistently more confident in their own ideas and opinions than people who took a more "doubtful posture," in which they slouched forward with a curved back.
"Hard work trumps talent every time."
In other words, don't give up on something just because you're not good at it right away. Great things don't happen without a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. Or, as some parents like to say, "a little elbow grease." You know who agreed with them? One of the most famous scientists of all time, Albert Einstein. Even he realized that nobody is born a genius. "It's not that I'm so smart," he once said. "It's just that I stay with problems longer." That's something to remember at any age.
"Your headphones will ruin your hearing."
Growing up, you couldn't listen to your music at eardrum-shattering decibels without your parents scolding you, insisting that your headphones were doing more damage to your ears than you realized. It should come as no surprise that they were right (again), as a 2010 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association made abundantly clear. Your headphones and earbuds can cause major hearing loss. Earbuds in particular are especially dangerous, as we tend to turn up the volume to block out background noise.
"Put on some clean underwear."
What is it about parents and the state of your underwear? You could never leave the house as a kid without them asking, "Are you wearing clean underwear?" You couldn't figure out why they were so concerned, but it turns out, they had good reason to hound you. According to a 2017 Good Housekeeping Institute study, even clean underwear can contain up to 10,000 living bacteria. And that's before it's been on our body for longer than 12 hours. If there's any item of clothing that needs to be washed regularly—and that means no "it's good enough for one more day" excuses—it's your underwear.
"Eat your vegetables."
You probably used to wonder why your parents would insist on you eating your broccoli or Brussels sprouts. It just seemed cruel and unusual, right? Actually, they had the right idea. A 2014 study published in the British Medical Journal found that a regular consumption of fruits and veggies can significantly lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Every time you complained about a salad your mom insisted you finish, she was probably adding years to your life.
"Wash your hands—well."
If you thought your parents were going overboard when they made you wash your hands like you were prepping for surgery, think again. A 2013 Michigan State University study took a closer look at hand-washing behaviors in public restrooms, and found that only 5 percent of people were washing long enough to kill the germs that can cause infection. One out of three didn't even use any soap. The next time you wash your hands, ask yourself, "Am I scrubbing long enough to satisfy my parents?"
"Don't forget to say 'please' and 'thank you.'"
Your parents' constant reminders to be polite might have irked you, but they were definitely steering you in the right direction. A 2014 study from the University of North Carolina found that good manners can help strengthen your existing relationships and create new friendships—it's known as the "find-remind-and-bind" theory of gratitude. So, remembering to say "please" and "thank you" isn't just about following a strict Miss Manners social protocol: It might actually be deepening your friendships.
"Go to bed."
No kid submits willingly to bedtime. Being forced to go to sleep before you were ready felt like a punishment. Well, there's abundant evidence that our parents were on the right track. Studies have found that getting to bed early helps us overcome negativity, reduce stress, be healthier and more attractive, and generally achieve greater success.
"You'll understand when you're older."
Didn't it always feel a little condescending when your parents told you this? What does age have to do with understanding the world? As it turns out, quite a bit. A 2016 study published in the journal i-Perception found that age does indeed bring wisdom, "at least when it comes to knowing that things aren't always as they appear." It's an important reminder even for fully-grown adults: You don't know everything. Things that seem mystifying today might slowly come into focus and make more sense as you age and gain more experience.