11-Year-old Eats Boogers

Children often have some nasty habits. As parents, we try to teach them that some things are not socially acceptable. Usually, they get the message early on and the behavior will stop. In some cases, it can be a bit more challenging. Many parents still deal with their 11 year old who eats boogers.

Picking and eating their boogers is pretty high on the list of things we don’t want our kids to do. It’s safe to say that every young child, at some point, will stick a finger in the nose, swirl it around, and proudly extract a giant booger.

Some will wipe it on their clothes, on the walls, or on your furniture.  Others seem compelled to eat it. Booger eating is more common than you think, and it even has a name – it’s called mucophagy. Parents usually see this as a nasty habit that will eventually go away. With a little teaching and coaxing it usually does.

When Nose-Picking Becomes a Problem

The behavior becomes problematic when children continue the habit into adolescence, and especially when they do it in the presence of others. If your 11-year-old still eats boogers, you will need to take action into stopping this behavior quickly.

A quick internet search will show that there are many adults who’ve spotted their partners – men and women – chomping on their boogers. You may even know adults who still pick their noses. Sometimes the only way to get rid of a booger is to extract it but most people learn to do this privately and to wash their hands afterward.

As people become older, certain social aspects are taken aware of and an older child or an adult picking their nose publicly can make the people around them uncomfortable. It can also turn away people because of the fact that it was done in front of them.

But before we jump all the way into adulthood, let’s find out what’s behind the booger. How it’s made, what’s in it, why some kids seem compelled to nose pick, and how you can help them to stop.

What’s a Booger Anyway?

Mucus is a sticky substance that outlines our noses, sinuses, throat, and lungs. Mucus, also called snot, acts as a lubricant that keeps the tissues in our noses soft and prevents dryness.

“Mucus is incredibly important for our bodies,” explains Michael M. Johns III, MD, director of the Emory Voice Center and assistant professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at Emory University. “It is the oil in the engine. Without mucus, the engine seizes.”

Mucus contains a protein that keeps it soft, antibodies that can spot viruses and bacteria, and enzymes that kill them.  When we breathe, things like dust, pollen, viruses, and bacteria come into our noses. Mucus is like a filter that stops things that are harmful from entering our lungs and these invaders eventually become trapped in the sticky snot.

The tiny hair in the nostrils help move the debris-filled mucus towards our nose where it is exposed to air, becomes dry, and clumps together which give birth to the booger.

What You Can Do When the Picking Begins

It usually starts when they’re toddlers. Every parent at some point will find their little angel happily picking away, sometimes not even realizing they are doing it. Once they grab the dried-up bits, they wipe them on their clothes or the closest available surface and they can even wipe it on you. That’s what parents are for, right?

We can’t escape it – there will be boogers. It’s just one of the ways our body works. There are a number of reasons why children may feel the urge to pick their nose.

Children are curious about their bodies. What if I stick my finger in there? How will it feel? Sure enough, they’ll find a booger and there’s nothing else to do but take it out. Maybe they even get a feeling of satisfaction or accomplishment from doing so. 

Some kids may do it when they’re bored or because they know they’ll get a reaction out of you or another grown up.

They can also do this action because the inside of their nose might not feel right. Our nasal passages can become dry and itchy so It’s natural to scratch your nose when you feel an itch. Our job is to teach them the right way to deal with this situation and to not pick their noses when there are people around. It’s also loaded with germs which they can pass on to everything they touch afterward.

Simple Nose-picking Solutions

  1. Use saline sprays to help keep their nostrils moist and reduce booger production. 
  2. Use a humidifier to help keep moisture in the air around them.
  3. Teach them to blow their noses into a tissue to get rid of loose boogers.
  4. Teach them to do it privately and wash their hands so they don’t spread the germs.

Keep their little hands busy. Whenever you see that they want to pick their nose, try to distract them with other things they can use their hands with so they are not fidgeting to pick their nose. It is also recommended to trim their nails short to prevent irritation inside their nostrils if they have the habit of picking their nose.

Having hand sanitizer handy is always a great idea so when you do catch them in the act, you can quickly make sure their hands are clean afterward.

Of course, they’ll slip up here and there and change won’t happen overnight but with consistency and guidance, their nose-picking and booger eating habit will disappear.

Why Do Some Kids Eat Boogers?

The booger search and discovery scenario may play out this way. Your angel pulls out the crusty little ball. They eye it as if contemplating its value. Before you can say, DON’T YOU DARE, it’s gone. Through the teeth, past the gums, look out stomach, here it comes. There’s a booger in the belly.

They looked pleased. You are horrified. Why did they do that? Where did they learn that? Is there something missing from their diet? Are they hungry?  

Nose-picking is bad enough and eating the booger takes it to another level for parents. You hope it won’t happen again but it does time and time again. There’s no clear explanation as to why some kids eat their boogers. It could simply be normal kid curiosity.  I wonder what it tastes like?  

Perhaps they just like the taste. It’s been said that boogers have a salty, sweet taste. While there is some speculation that eating boogers may help to build up a child’s immunity, there’s no scientific proof. What we do know for certain is that boogers are filled with germs.

Compulsive Nose-Picking

It’s important to differentiate between “normal” and compulsive nose-picking.  A study presented in the National Library of Medicine concluded that “Significant portions of the population, primarily adolescents, have been found to engage in this activity up to four times a day.”

Nose-picking is compulsive when it’s not voluntary. There’s even a medical term for it – Rhinotillexomania.

Compulsive behaviors often begin in childhood and continue into adolescence and beyond. If your child cannot voluntarily stop, then the behavior may be compulsive.

Nose-picking Side Effects

An 11 year old eating boogers needs help stopping.

Nose picking is not only socially unattractive, but it can also be physically and emotionally harmful. Excessive picking can cause bleeding and inflammation in the nose and lead to bacterial and upper respiratory infections.

Compulsive behaviors, such as nose-picking can cause severe anxiety, especially for adolescents. If they are teased or shunned by their peers, it can be devastating.

Here are some suggestions that may help with excessive nose-picking.

  • Teach them to use cotton swabs instead of their fingers to avoid damaging the nasal cavity.
  • Remind them to blow their nose often to expel mucus and loose boogers, and reduce the urge the pick.
  • Give them a fidget toy to occupy their hands and even release stress.
  • Use a memory device such as a bandage on the finger usually used for picking the nose.  

Final Thoughts

Nose-picking publicly is socially unacceptable. An 11 year old that eats boogers needs guidance on how to stop this behavior so it does not carry on into adulthood.

There are things that should be left behind as children are growing up. Things like believing in the tooth fairy or picking your nose and eating boogers are some of the things that many people would assume should be left behind but unfortunately, some children still have not moved on.

Another thing to remember is that kids value the opinion of their peers. If your young child is still eating boogers, they can be bullied and anxious in public because of the humiliation they might feel from others.

This action also causes damage to the nasal passages and if your child still inhabits this behavior, long-term health effects can show up and it can be too late to fix this issue. If your child cannot stop the behavior, there may be something else going on. Consult with a pediatrician to see if there’s any damage to the nasal cavity and also identify any underlying emotional issues.