Santa Claus: harmless tradition or harmful lie?

Santa Claus: harmless tradition or harmful lie?


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They say honesty is always the best policy, but when a lie wears a fur-trimmed coat and showers gifts upon good little girls and boys, well, all bets are off. If you're a parent, chances are you've questioned the ramifications of encouraging the "Santa myth" in your household. Whether you choose to uphold the "ho, ho, ho" or serve your kids a hearty helping of Christmas truth, you may want to consider the consequences of both.

The pros

It allows kids to exercise their imagination

There's just something about Christmastime for a child, and a big part of the magic comes in the rotund form of Jolly Old Saint Nick. Believing in Santa Claus allows children to let their imagination sparkle as bright as a trimmed Christmas tree.

"There is a magic and wonder about Christmas, Santa, his elves, reindeer and sleigh," said Brett Williams, director of outpatient mental health at Mountain View Hospital in Payson. "It is healthy and appropriate to allow children to experience the wonder. It is unhealthy and scary to take that away from them, as doing so can isolate them from their peers and the world around them."

Figuring it out is a rite of passage

While often depicted as a traumatic event wherein some children revoke trust in their parents and become cynical of the world around them, figuring out that Santa Claus isn't real is usually a much quieter event. In fact, many kids find a sense of maturity in debunking the myth and being "in" on the secret. Often, older kids who know the truth seek to protect their younger siblings' belief. This rite of passage is an important developmental step in a child's life. It helps children to realize that they can think critically and deduce fact for themselves.

It helps to generate healthy conversations

Generations of children who grew up with this tradition have shown that you don't have to worry about your child going off to college worried that Santa Claus won't find his or her new chimney. Around age 7 or 8, kids naturally begin questioning the Santa myth, and this is healthy, according to Williams.

"When do you tell them the real story? The answer is simple: When they ask," said Williams. "If children are old enough to start thinking that maybe the man in the red suit isn't real and they ask about it, then they are ready for more information."

The cons

It might undermine your morals

If you hope to teach your children honesty, fostering a lie might not be the best way to do it. The old "actions speak louder than words" principle can come back to bite you later when your historical insistence that Santa is real becomes Exhibit A in your child's argument against your moral counsel. If you're hoping to raise honest children who trust their parents, bringing them up in a lie could undermine your efforts.

It promotes lazy parenting

For moms and dads looking for an easy way to correct their children's behavior, Santa can be the most convenient—and jolliest—parenting tool around; especially during the hectic weeks before Christmas. But that doesn't mean it's the right way to teach kids to behave—or even a very effective method. In fact, the whole idea of teaching kids to behave in order to get toys instead of coal on Christmas morning is a little backward.

As author Amy Chua told Psychology Today, "Laying out clear standards of behaviors is good parenting. Letting kids face the consequences of their actions and punishing them when they misbehave is a necessary part of teaching. Empty threats teach kids to misbehave."

It can be self-serving

According to Business Insider, when you get right down to it, parents teach kids to believe in Santa Claus because, well, it's cute. Parents get to experience a bit of the childlike magic of Christmas by seeing it through their children's eyes. While there's nothing wrong with that, knowingly setting a child up for disappointment so you can enjoy the holidays a little more seems pretty selfish.

"Despite their protestations to the contrary, parents don't do it for the benefit of the children," the article states.

Whether you're encouraging a festive myth or having a serious sit-down with your child this Christmas, remember: When it comes to your children, only you can determine what's naughty or nice.

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