Growing up, kids have no idea what is supposed to be "normal" behavior. After all, how are they supposed to know if something's off if that is all they have ever known? However, when they do learn, it can be pretty shocking.
People on Reddit share the childhood behavior they thought was normal but later learned wasn't. Content has been edited for clarity.
"Smoking at the age of nine or ten.
I mean, I had NO idea until I was probably in my late teens that it just wasn't normal for a kid to steal smokes from their parents or older siblings and start smoking at the young age of nine or ten.
Some kids in my neighborhood (including myself, because I was dumb) even took to buying Bubble Tape (which at the time came in a round canister) and shoving it in their back pocket to make it look like they had a can of Copenhagen because a lot of my friends' dads dipped as well as smoked."
"I grew up on a farm outside a small town. I didn't realize until I started going to school that running around undressed outside often, playing with hatchets and pockets knives, or breaking off pieces of salt lick to suck on, were not normal things.
My parents fostered two young girls very close to my age. The things they expected from my parents/thought were normal were so sad. They thought they would get in trouble for using soap in the bath. They asked permission to get drinks of water and to go to the bathroom. They were amazed we weren't locked in our rooms at night, amazed I had my own room and they had theirs. They didn't know what bed frames were."
"Over the period of about a year when I was 9-10 years old, four different people on the street I lived on died unnatural deaths. The old lady next door electrocuted herself trimming the hedges. One of the neighbor kids I played with accidentally shot himself playing with his father's loaded weapon (in front of his sister). Another playmate's father was a cop and was shot and killed in the line of duty. A 16-year-old girl was attacked and murdered in her own house (never solved, even though everybody knew who did it). I also had a cousin I was close to die in a car accident, but he didn't live on the same street.
So with all that I just assumed that was a normal rate of death. So naturally, I assumed that I was going to die at some point in the near future. Took a few years to get over that."
"I thought everyone twitched uncontrollably when the sunlight shined through the trees in the morning on the way to school or strobe lights. It was not until I was 14 that I had my first grand mal seizure, and went to the hospital.
That I thought it was normal to have older boys finding me attractive from the age of 8 to 13. Unbeknownst to me, I was assaulted and abused without also realizing this doesn't happen to every girl until I was 19.
And no, it isn't normal for anyone's mom to be hammered five out of the seven days a week, or to be taken to the bar when my mom couldn't find a babysitter."
"I was raised by a mother with a mental illness. For some much-needed context, my mother recently died of Huntington's disease.
So my childhood was spent bouncing from house to house running from imaginary hitmen. My mother thought my dad was trying to have her killed. She would spend hours every night trying to convince my sister and me that my dad wanted us dead. The mental and emotional abuse was heavy but since we moved a lot, I never developed deep enough relationships with others enough to see that my experience was unique.
The true story is that my dad was fighting a system that allowed two young kids to move states away with no notice with a mother that was heavily and obviously mentally ill. I recently read my dad's (who passed away several years ago) journal he kept for court reasons during that time. Without going into detail, he was a champ. Over two years of fighting, tens of thousands of dollars in court fees, he was able to fight through a biased system and finally get custody of my sister and me.
He gave us a great life."
"Traveling back and forth to Mexico weekly, even though it was hours of riding a bus. I was told things are cheaper so that's why we would go because we were poor. I remember visiting houses with lots of people crammed sitting on the floor with makeshift beds on the bare floor, and very specifically a single box of Wheaties on the dirty fridge.
Other times, we would go to the middle of nowhere, a tiny house with nothing but a single window in each wall and a bucket in the corner. I was told to be quiet and not come out.
My mother later confessed to me as an adult that she and my stepdad were smuggling illegal substances across the border."
"Treating people like absolute trash. No, really.
My brothers treated me like garbage all the time, from hitting me, to constant insults every single time I opened my mouth. It was a never-ending childhood of abuse.
At one point, I tried to think logically and thought in order to be better friends with our cousin, I should treat him as my brothers treated me. My cousin of course grew up to freaking hate me as a result.
I know now how obviously wrong that is, and that my brothers are pure monsters. I like to think that as adults my cousin and I are okay, but I know that we could be better. I would have loved having someone to talk to on a daily basis. I know I could have had it if I didn't attempt to insult my cousin every single time I saw him.
I feel like I still owe him an apology."
"When I was a kid, I thought I could see 'ghosts,' or the soul/spirit of every person or thing standing to the side of their physical presence. This was about a meter off at an interpersonal conversational distance, but diverging more the further they/it was from me.
We watched a lot of ancient history PBS shows when I was tiny, and I think I came up with this rationalization out of something to do with the Egyptian afterlife.
Turned out I had SEVERE double-vision. Finally, I got glasses when I was 4, but I still remember what it was like to live in that world/with those perceptions."
"Making a simple mistake resulted in getting yelled at until I cried. This also went for misunderstanding instructions, getting confused, or not doing something exactly the way my parents wanted it to be.
It took me until I was far into my 20s to realize that most people don't react to tiny mistakes (dropping something, spilling, not hearing my dad when he's mumbling) like the way my dad did, specifically by yelling and shouting at me.
It still surprises me when someone tells me it's okay, especially a boss."
"Since I was about four-years-old, I've known how to read the dosage instructions on a pill bottle, and carefully sort them out into the weekly pillbox that had seven columns and three rows (seven days and three intervals). I have also known how to read blood pressure readings and glucose measurements, as well as what was the normal range and what was an outlier, and how to measure an approximate linear range to denote that month's average every month.
I thought everyone’s father was on that many medications to be 'healthy' (my father was told he had six months left when my mother was seven months pregnant with me, and I was 23 when he passed). And was happy to do my job as their kid to help keep him that way. I was trained by the hospital to be his 'home care aide' at eight and knew how to recognize ulcers, bandage and treat wounds, when to administer emergency medications, how to perform life-preserving actions (like CPR and a few others), what to say when calling for EMS and how to speak to the EMTs when they arrive while remaining calm and specific at the moment. By the time I was 11, I was his health advocate and attended every single doctor's appointment and specialist meeting. I knew every detail about my father's health, illnesses, conditions, and restrictions. I could spot even a minor change in condition within a few weeks and would be beating down the door of whatever doctor he had that treated it demanding answers and solutions.
I was 24 and telling my then-boyfriend about how I always felt ecstatic every time I felt his pulse slip away and then come back. Or watched a minor change reverse and his stats return to baseline and hold steady. I asked how he felt when he did that with his father (who was still alive at the time) and he looked at me like I was crazy. So I told him all that I did with my dad, and how we had him nearly 24 years longer than any medical professional predicted. And it was that way in every family. The father is told he only has so long to live, they then have a child, and that child’s love and devotion then determine how long he actually has left.
He then told me, 'No, people have kids to have children.'
I retorted by asking why I was able to do it then, and if it isn’t normal then why did all the doctors and specialists act like it was normal to be discussing kidney function fluctuations with a 10-year-old.
His answer was, 'That’s because they didn’t have a kid. They had a live-in nurse with a helicopter parent attitude, an OCD disposition, and a medical encyclopedia for a brain. Who was conditioned her whole life to forgo their childhood and personal desires to instead obsess over the smallest details of his health, and find pleasure in its success and longevity.'
And that was the day that I finally understood what so many doctors told me with a tight smile with a rather guarded look, 'If only we could clone you and prescribe them to every terminal patient. A guaranteed full life for the patient, with no strain to their real family.'
I don’t think my parents ever really did consider me 'real family.'"
"My parents were pretty good parents but raised their daughters to essentially just become good wives. That included raising kids. I was the oldest of six and when I was 14, my parents went to the states for ten days with me in charge of the four, six, seven, and eight-year-old. The 12-year-old was supposed to help when I needed it.
We lived in the middle of nowhere and were homeschooled, so they basically stocked us up on food and gave us my aunt's phone number. She lived just up the road and checked in once a day, but still. I’m so shocked that everyone around us was okay knowing there was a 14-year-old taking care of and teaching elementary school kids for a week. At the time, I just felt like it was normal."
"I was always being left unattended for hours at a time. Sometimes, it would be outside in my backyard, and I would often climb the fence to talk to my neighbors. Other times it would be inside the house, where absolutely nothing was child-proofed. This was (roughly) around the ages of two to four.
As it turns out, my biological parents were so heavily addicted to narcotics that I was more of an afterthought. Unfortunately, I ended up very mentally ill from the extensive emotional and physical neglect. But whatever, not like I had anything to do with it.
But, I did get a happy ending - I was put under my current parents’ guardianship when I was four, and eventually adopted when I was 10. I haven't been subjected to dangerous situations like that since."
"Pretty much every time I got in the car with my parents, the story was the same.
'Okay, a quick stop at the drink store, and then home,' they would tell me.
I thought it was a necessary daily occurrence. Some days we even did it twice.
I once went over to a friend's house when I was young, and through the course of the day, we got in and out of their vehicles six times and didn’t stop at the drink store once. On the sixth and final trip, when they were pulling into their garage, I was trying to be helpful.
So, I poked my head from the back and asked, 'Aren’t we going to stop at the drink store?'
And the parents looked at me like I had two heads.
'No?' her mom said.
I was so confused I just got out of the van. I didn’t know what to think.
As an adult, I just realized my parents are raging heavy drinkers."
"Moving all the time. My mom was mentally ill, and I think moving was fun for her and gave her a fresh start. She would arrange it all while my dad was at work, and he just went along with it. My grandma would help her financially for us kids’ sake so we had a roof over our heads.
Sometimes, we would only be at a house for a couple of weeks before there was some excuse to move again. I was always the new kid in school and to this day (I’m in my 40s), I still have nightmares that I’m living with my parents and they announce we are moving.
Of course, at some point, I realized it was not normal, and I got good at lying about it or telling my friends we just changed our phone number because it was so embarrassing."
"I thought it was very normal that your brother blackmailed you and strangles you whenever he is angry. I also thought that it was normal to feel not wanted and that I shouldn't exist. I had thoughts of suicide daily and cried in the bathroom very quietly. I was in elementary at the time and thought school was a very nice place because I could get away from my brother.
I question what is normal and what isn't due to this. I don't know if I want to live to be an adult now because I have so many regrets when I was a child. I have been trying to start walking on a daily basis now because of the stress of school. I am also interested in boxing but my mom is going to put my brother in a class if I go as well, and I have a feeling that everything is going to happen all over again.
Would it be okay if I punch my brother when he strangles me? These are thoughts I have sometimes when he is angry and I want to crawl and hide in a room to be away from him but we share the same room.
I hate being under the same roof as my brother when he is angry, and I just wish I have more freedom to go out and walk on my own. Unfortunately for me, my mom is overprotective and I have to be in her line of sight. I sometimes get tired of my brother and use the blackmail card but I always regret it.
I don't know what to do anymore."
"To never show any negative emotion whatsoever: cry, show anger, show fear. My parents didn't tolerate any of this for even a second. If you ever showed anything like that, it was going to be followed by hour-long sessions of emotional abuse where they berated you and told you that you will never get anywhere in life.
As a result, I haven't cried since I was like nine. I will retain a calm exterior disposition even when in very heated or scary situations. Not going to lie, it comes in handy often, but I do feel kinda broken sometimes when I see other guys wear their emotions on their sleeves.
I remember being in college and walking in on my roommate crying. I tried to pretend I didn't see him because I assumed he'd be extremely ashamed. When he was open about why he was doing it, I was caught completely off guard."
"I grew up in a cult. I thought that every girl wore her hair in a bun, wore long jean skirts, and didn't have careers. I also thought it was very normal to pray or give thanks before every meal, even snacks. I thought that knowing a friend or having family in almost every town, state, or country was normal. I thought it was normal that we didn't have a television growing up, that my parents didn't vote or participate in any holiday, and seeing everyone else as less of a human than you are was definitely normal.
Moved out at 20 and boy was I surprised to find that 'the world' is actually full of beautiful people, and most people don't want me to go to the underworld. I still have difficulties meeting new people but dang, living for yourself is quite liberating."
"When I was a kid, emotions, facial expressions, and gestures REALLY confused me.
I always questioned whether I feel things the same way as everyone else. Wondering if what I know to be 'happy' is what everyone else calls happy, or if it's just what I've assumed it to be because there is never a real way to know what is going on in someone else's head or how other people actually experience things.
So I would sit in front of the mirror and practice facial expressions for hours on a regular basis. Assuming, teaching myself just like everyone else had to do.
More recently I found out that I'm autistic and things make a lot more sense now."
"Ever since I was around three, I thought it was normal for a married man to have a girlfriend. I caught my dad kissing (I thought they were just kissing since I was still very young, but now I'm pretty sure they were sleeping together) my babysitter that lived with us. They convinced me that it was normal, that everyone's dad just did the same thing, but I could never tell my mom because if I did I won't see her again. I really liked my babysitter, since she was like my mom at the time, so I never did get to tell my mom.
I only found out that it wasn't normal when I was about eight. I was watching TV, and there were these couples arguing because the husband cheated.
Now I really frown upon cheating, and I've been loyal ah heck to my girlfriend."
"I remember when I was 11 or 12, there was this one really annoying kid. I wasn’t upset annoyed, and I thought it could have been part of the joke. I went and pinched his arm really hard then twisted making sure to use some nails. I laughed for a second until he exclaimed and started crying. I wasn’t sorry or sad. I was confused. I thought nothing of it because I told myself that sometimes it hurts me too, but that’s just part of it.
The teacher comes over and asks if I pinched the kid. Now I was really confused. I knew I was in trouble based on the tone. I confirmed that I did and she asked why. I said I didn’t know because I was too busy being confused. What was wrong with it? My mother did that to me all the time.
Years later, I found out that it’s not normal for your mother to use their nails to pinch and twist your skin. It wasn’t normal for your mother to draw blood, leave bruises, do inappropriate things, or threaten to kill you. It wasn’t normal to have to chronically lie to your parents to avoid a beating, be scolded for how I dressed because the bruises were showing, or almost getting into car accidents because I was either getting punched/hit while they drove then being told it was my fault.
I assume this is also not normal, but the way I found out what divorce was through my parents telling me, 'If mommy and daddy ended up getting a divorce it’ll be because of you. You wouldn’t want that, would you? If you don’t stop crying the neighbors will hear you and think we’re hurting you. Then you’ll never get to see us. Is that what you want?'
It was baffling to see a child get along with their parent. Like... really, really strange and mind-boggling. The first time, I saw it I was super confused. But then I saw it again and again. I kept telling myself that they were lucky and weird.
I finally found out at around age 19 what my parents were doing. It happened when a close friend of mine finally decided to ask why I flinched so much. Why I hated to be touched in any way. She assumed I was the nervous type, but she noted that when I did get touched I’d have a panic attack or get aggressive.
All I replied with was, 'It’s an normal thing. Y’know? Getting beaten and things like that.'
I then talk in more detail and as I start talking to her and receiving feedback I realized everything which did make my mental state A LOT worse. Ignorance is bliss I guess."
"When I was about seven, my dad got really worried that I was going to be fat 'like my mother' (he weighed in at about 450 during this time, FYI). So, in order to help me, he put me on an intense diet and workout routine for the next six or so years.
When I was about 11, I went over to a friend's house after school and she was eating snacks and watching TV, very foreign to me. So I asked her when she had to start working out and she looked at me like I'd gone mad. I was too embarrassed to explain, but I started secretly investigating what other people did when they got home from school.
I was apparently the only one spending two or more hours a day exercising and being ridiculed for the future crime of being fat."