Here’s a bit of advice to parents: don’t lie to your kids. Yesterday we wrote a post on a PR stunt by Google to “track Santa” and pointed out that the whole thing is more than a bit silly, especially for Google, which prides itself on openness and spreading information.
That post got a fair bit of attention and more than a few comments so we thought we would elucidate, on this beautiful Christmas day, why, exactly, parents shouldn’t lie to their kids and make them believe in Santa Claus.
The argument goes something like this: lying to children is bad.
You would think that this would be uncontroversial, somewhere between “Don’t punch old ladies” and “World peace is a good idea”, but there we are. So let us explain.
It’s not just a story. Parents usually defend the Santa lie by saying that it’s just a story, like Snow White. But there’s a difference between fiction and lying. When you tell your kids a story, they know it’s a story. They don’t believe it’s actually real. When kids play cops and robbers, even though they pretend otherwise — and that’s part of the fun! — they know they’re not actual cops and robbers. It’s not the same thing as a telling them a story. Telling stories is awesome. The Santa lie, however, is a lie.
It doesn’t do anything for their imagination. This is usually the next line of defence: tricking kids about Santa somehow helps their imagination. But that makes no sense. You’re not asking kids to actually imagine anything, you’re feeding them beliefs. You are taking advantage of the fact that they trust you to make them believe things are true which are not. That has nothing to do with imagination. If believing in Santa was an exercise in imagination, every kid would believe in a different Santa. And yet the things kids believe about Santa are the things their parents tell them (unless the kids are smart).
Who cares if it’s tradition? For a very long time, tradition included such smart education principles as “spare the rod, spoil the child.” Now our society doesn’t believe in beating children — and that’s a good thing. Families that celebrate Christmas should have Christmas traditions! If you’re Christian, well, your religion already has plenty of traditions around that. If you’re secular but still want to celebrate Christmas, you still have carols, food, spending time together, and exchanging gifts for the right, correct reason: that you love each other. You don’t need to invent a supersonic fat man to show your children you love them.
It’s bad tactics. From the parents’ purely self-interested perspective, the Santa lie is just dumb parenting. First of all, it erodes your trust capital. Once your kids discover that you were actively lying to them for several years, how much do you think they’ll trust you? Some kids are unaffected, but many trust their parents less. The Santa lie is also used to control children: if you’re “good” you’ll get presents, and if you’re “naughty” you won’t. But really, has that ever worked? Except for the two weeks before Christmas, and possibly for 30 seconds after being reminded, has any child ever altered his behaviour in any way because of this threat?
It’s just morally wrong. Sorry to repeat ourselves, but lying to children is just wrong. It is. Just because someone is gullible is no reason to lie to them, and children have a right not to be deceived like everyone else. You can make a case for some “white lies” but the Santa lie is not a white lie. It’s just a lie.
It’s selfish. That’s the biggest reason. Despite their protestations to the contrary, parents don’t do it for the benefit of the children. They do it for their own benefit. When pressed and rebutted, parents will eventually blurt out “But they’re so cute when they believe in Santa!” That’s the real reason, isn’t it? Parents tell their kids the Santa lie because it’s a form of entertainment. They like to watch kids helplessly believe something they know isn’t true. At the end of the day, it’s a cruel prank.
So there you go, parents. It’s not too late. Come clean.
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