The Jury Talks Back

12/22/2008

Lying to Children

Filed under: Uncategorized — JRM @ 8:22 am

People lie to their kids all the time. Sometimes, it’s to get them to comply with orders. Sometimes, it’s with the assumption that the kids will forget the lie. And sometimes, it’s just to amuse themselves.

Wouldn’t it be better not to lie just to amuse oneself? It’s said that lying to them might amuse the children, too, but if you want to amuse kids you can tell them fiction is fiction. I loved fictional stories that I knew were fictional when I was a kid.

And that’s why I hate Santa Claus. Deceiving children to – let’s face it – amuse ourselves and try to bring back our own childhoods is just wrong. The justifications are rationalizations.

Tell the story of Santa, but tell it as fiction. Let children get smarter; understanding the real world helps that. At the very least sake, when the kid asks if Santa is real, stop lying to her. Stop it. Stop it now.

Really. I’m serious. The societal glee in fooling children is unseemly at best, and harmful to their long-term mental health at worst.

–JRM

31 Comments

  1. That will be just about enough of that sort of talk, Mister.

    Comment by Retailers of the World — 12/22/2008 @ 8:42 am

  2. But Santa is real.

    Comment by hoglet — 12/22/2008 @ 9:03 am

  3. If I tell my children to believe in something, I’m not ever going to tell them a lie that I do not believe myself only to laugh at their childlike faith. Not going to happen in my household.

    So I agree. We did not play up Santa with our children. We concentrated on the incarnation, the celebration of which is what Christmas is supposed to be about.

    But don’t teach Santa as fiction! Teach about the historical Saint Nicholas.

    We taught our children that Santa was a game people play. We explained the tradition in detail and would play it with a wink, but we never gave it the seriousness others did. It was an explicit fantasy, not meant to distract from Christ. We told them to be respectful of other traditions (don’t go telling your cousins that Saint Nicholas is dead). We could enjoy the fun without setting up disillusionment. They have grown up to respect what we say and the gentle stand we took.

    That said, the real problem for all ages with Christmas is materialism, not the Santa tradition.

    Comment by Amphipolis — 12/22/2008 @ 9:09 am

  4. The societal glee in fooling children is unseemly at best, and harmful to their long-term mental health at worst.

    I know this from personal experience. I was traumatized throughout my teenage years from the realization of the societal deception about Kris Kringle. I’ve spent many hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars on psychiatric help in a vain attempt to regain trust of my parents and other authority figures due to their continued lies about the reality of such figures as Saint Nicholas, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and Elvis.

    Comment by aunursa — 12/22/2008 @ 9:10 am

  5. A perennial topic at Wikipedia Santa Claus (talk). Either you believe, or you don’t, and in either case, what do you tell the little ones? I think that Terry Pratchett’s novel Hogfather is a good take on the whole problem of early-childhood education, and I copied a bit of it to my user page extended Hogfather quote; if there isn’t a Hogfather (Santa) the world would be a better place if there was.

    Comment by htom — 12/22/2008 @ 10:05 am

  6. GRINCH!

    Comment by Another Drew — 12/22/2008 @ 10:22 am

  7. My daughter could care less about reconciling Santa Claus, Sinter Klaus, Kris Kringle, St. Nicholas and St. Basil.

    She wants to know where the Jedis get the “diathium” crystals for their lightsabers (is it Dagobah?) and do they come in all the different colors — white, blue, green red and purple? And was Anakin already turning bad in the pod-race? And what are Tushkent children called?

    Comment by nk — 12/22/2008 @ 10:38 am

  8. I think your daughter is one of the best kids in the world, nk. That her worries are about such important issues shows her to be a very wise young lady…

    I’m fighting the urge to explain where the crystals come from…

    Comment by Scott Jacobs — 12/22/2008 @ 10:52 am

  9. We handled it pretty much like Amphibolis #3. The kids knew and learned of the Immaculate Conception, the birth and the arrival of the Savior. It fit into our daily lives and gave context to why our relationship with God was first and foremost.

    We still had presents, still told them of St. Nicholas but all knew as much as children are able that Christ was indeed Christmas. Smart kids they were, at early ages they would be puzzled and ask why, if people did not believe in Christ, would they even celebrate Christmas?

    I do believe there are times when perhaps a less full truth is in the best interest of the child. If parents are going through a rough patch they don’t need to spill all because that burden is not one that is the child’s to carry and most children are prone to worry. I think too that a child’s age and maturity (which attentive parents will be able to assess better than anyone else) determine what, if anything, need be said and/or how much… Honesty is of course the best policy in any relationship but the lives of parents and marriage can be messy and children don’t need to know everything. Perhaps short and sweet and reassuring is a good rule of thumb.

    The Santa Claus issue is the least of concerns re what to tell a kid because life will inevitably bring about the far more weighty and difficult to discern situations.

    Comment by Dana — 12/22/2008 @ 11:16 am

  10. Santa Claus is used as an expression of a feeling, embodied in a story for young children (3-6 years old)in our house. When they were old enough to question I read them the editorial from The Sun, “Yes Virginia there is a Santa Claus.”
    And asked them not to spoil the feeling for those of their friends (or younger brothers!) who needed to believe in Santa.

    Comment by pitchforksntorches — 12/22/2008 @ 3:46 pm

  11. Not to be too self promotional, but here’s a very short story I once wrote for the benefit of the relatively young children of a friend of mine, and decided to post on my own blog for the Feast of St. Nicholas, based on one of the traditional legends dealing with the “real” St. Nicholas.

    (Linking to my blog because the story is too long for a comment)

    Comment by kishnevi — 12/22/2008 @ 8:59 pm

  12. This is probably the saddest thing I’ve ever heard. My fondest childhood memories are of Christmas mornings, and I won’t ever be able to thank my parents enough for them. In fact, to this day, Christmas brings back the overwhelming sense of delight that goes along with them. Of course, you are free to do as you wish with your own kids, but I would be ashamed of myself if I denied my children those memories.

    To your end, I would suggest that you should also tell kids that religion in general is fiction, except for one (at best). But surely it’s yours that finally got it right.

    Comment by Justin — 12/23/2008 @ 4:56 am

  13. Frankly, I always thought the idea of a fat guy who hung around child-sized beings all year then sneaking into the house – always knowing when I’m sleeping or awake, or if I’ve been bad or good – to be at the least slightly creepy.

    Comment by Scott Jacobs — 12/23/2008 @ 5:16 am

  14. This will sound weird, but you may actually be fooling your children by leveling with them about Santa.

    One of the things that I took away from the Santa is real/imaginary transition is that it introduced the realization that a great many people could put forth an untruth, for the express purpose of supporting the ‘greater good’, and all without a specific organizational framework. (Obviously I didn’t phrase it like this, but the general idea is what was important to my education)

    The resulting information (Santa isn’t real) may be the same, but the experience of realizing that what you once accepted as truth has been replaced by a greater understanding is valuable in itself, apart from the knowledge. It instructs one to seek their own affirmation when dealing with what others present as accepted beliefs, and that instruction is, IMO, part of the socialization process that is necessary for independent thought.

    It also prepares them for something else that a parent cannot control – the realization that the parent doesn’t know everything, and has their own weaknesses and problems. How many have pursued their own interests above those that the parent chooses for them, with the results spectacular success?

    I don’t believe that children are that fragile. Don’t let school get in the way of your child’s education.

    Comment by Apogee — 12/23/2008 @ 7:04 pm

  15. Apogee, I could see your point in general, but when specifically applied to parents I don’t see it.

    The experience of realizing that what their parents once told them is true has been replaced by a greater understanding (that their parents lied) is the very thing I sought to avoid. It’s not a matter of learning that parents don’t know everything. They learn that on their own with or without Santa. It’s a matter of learning that parents won’t deliberately lie to them.

    No, children are not fragile. But that is no excuse to lie to them. I still keenly remember that disillusionment. I remembered that my parents told me to believe as I realized that they were laughing at me. I had a hard time trusting the worthwhile truths they told me after that.

    Young people are looking for one thing – integrity. If you lack that, you have no hope trying to reason with teens. They can smell disingenuousness.

    Deliberately deceiveng children will not help them learn. Learning always has a foundation. It may be altered by experience or new data, but it is still there – something to compare new information against, something that was passed on, something that while it may have faults was at least homestly believed by the previous generation. A starting point.

    Civilization isn’t made up from scratch by each generation.

    Comment by Amphipolis — 12/23/2008 @ 7:42 pm

  16. Civilization isn’t made up from scratch by each generation.

    True; but it can also be abandoned, bit by bit, by each generation.

    I urge those of you who are opposed to “teaching Santa” to read the quote from Hogfather that I linked to earlier.

    Comment by htom — 12/23/2008 @ 11:26 pm

  17. Sorry, htom, but the Earth is in fact warmed by a ball of hot gas.

    Comment by nk — 12/24/2008 @ 6:27 am

  18. Lying to kids, in situations like this is a GOOD idea. It keeps them on their toes and forces them to ask questions, such as: “Uncle Tom, if there is a Santa, why do the presents that say ‘from Santa’ have tags written in your hand writing?”

    It encourages the kids to think logically, it teaches kids that they can’t believe everything that adults say, and it teaches kids that there are different kinds of lies, white ones and lies that actually damage. It encourages kids to question adults, which is a good thing.

    Comment by Jack — 12/24/2008 @ 7:02 am

  19. I find that the Grinches that have to tell children that there is no Santa Claus also tell them that there is no Tooth Fairy and these people revel in destroying children’s innocense. They are not doing the children or society any good.

    Comment by PCD — 12/24/2008 @ 7:13 am

  20. Rereading “Apogee’s” comment, I also want to point out that by lying to little kids about Santa, we also show that in some instances the truth of a thing really isn’t important which serves as a contrast to when the truth of a thing is of vital importance.

    Breaking a promise to a child is far more destructive of adult reputation than hiding behind a non-existent fat man in order to give a gift without incurring an obligation.

    And for those who suffered trauma when they learned of Santa’s fictional nature, boy are you gonna be upset when you realize that the planet isn’t heating up. By the way, the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny don’t exist either.

    AS for my parents: The truest thing they ever told me was, “It will be on again, dear.” (Referring to any program that I absolutely had to watch now in lieu of going to bed. They were sure right about that one.) As an adult, I find that playing Santa is one of the best things about Christmas.

    Comment by Jack — 12/24/2008 @ 7:14 am

  21. Another practical issue that comes up when lying to a child about Santa is the fact that kids find out and understand at an early age that there are indeed other children in their community or in the world that do not get presents left under a tree in their home – that some kids are without. What does that then make Santa? One lie becomes compounded by another lie when parents try to figure out how to answer that injustice.

    Comment by Dana — 12/24/2008 @ 9:45 am

  22. Come on people, get over it will you. We’re talking about “Santa Claus” for crying out loud. When I look into my 6 year old’s face and see the anticipation and joy she expresses, and when she wrote her own, hand written letter to Santa Claus, everything seemed to be in its place and the world was right. Why take that joy and excitement away from little children??? True, the real meaning of Christmas is about the birth of our Lord and Saviour, and we teach our kids the real importance of Christmas, but come on, what is so wrong with the concept of Santa Claus??? Isn’t it, at least in part, based upon the actually history of one St. Nicholas???

    Now my 12 year old, he knows the truth and he’s ok with that. He wasn’t “emotionally scarred” or “developmentally retarded” because we let him believe in Santa Claus when he was younger. I was about his age, maybe 10 or 11, when I was unable to sleep on Christmas Eve and heard my parents placing out all the gifts from “Santa” and it was a little bit of a let down, but I knew that they loved me and that they did it for my benefit. Looking back, I think that that was when I officially stopped being a kid, my childhood was over. I felt more “adult” then. Is that such a bad thing?

    Merry Christmas to All, and to All a Good Night!!! Ho! Ho! Ho! MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

    Comment by J. Raymond Wright — 12/24/2008 @ 10:23 am

  23. Another practical issue that comes up when lying to a child about Santa is the fact that kids find out and understand at an early age that there are indeed other children in their community or in the world that do not get presents left under a tree in their home – that some kids are without.

    That helps them realize that they are special, and gifted by Providence, and also helps them appreciate their family and society more.

    Comment by nk — 12/24/2008 @ 10:54 am

  24. nk, no doubt, however, it is often this most essential and enriching truth, gifted by Providence, that gets lost in the Santa Claus fun.

    Comment by Dana — 12/24/2008 @ 11:01 am

  25. I’m convinced my kids are smarter because they used their imaginations when they were little, including pretending to be someone else or pretending to go places they saw on TV or in the movies. To me, pretend friends or characters like Santa are just an extension of this. Do adults really think kids’ minds are so fragile that they can’t handle any inconsistency?

    Comment by DRJ — 12/24/2008 @ 3:00 pm

  26. But how come there must always be two Sith Lords, no more no less, but there can be any number of Jedis?

    Comment by nk — 12/24/2008 @ 4:04 pm

  27. Looking back I think the force of my comments went a bit beyond my actual thinking. No, I don’t think you abuse your children by telling them that Santa is real!

    I took a different stand. I had my reasons, others have theirs. None of us can really know the outcome. But I would be the first to defend a parent’s right to raise their child as they think is best.

    So have a merry Christmas, and stop kissing Mrs Claus.

    Comment by Amphipolis — 12/25/2008 @ 9:53 am

  28. My local Toys R’ Us has FX lightsabers for $69.98, down from $119.99. We bought the Luke Skywalker, even though I wanted the Darth Vader. My daughter said, “I will never join you. I will not go the The Dark Side”. Ahh, kids these days.

    Comment by nk — 1/2/2009 @ 11:25 am

  29. On the shelf. In unsold, mint condition. They won’t last.

    Comment by nk — 1/2/2009 @ 11:26 am

  30. Your daughter is a rare gem. She’ll make some geek very happy when she’s 45 and you finally let her go outside. :)

    Comment by Scott Jacobs — 1/2/2009 @ 11:50 am

  31. Nah, she will follow the Rule of Two. She will have killed me long before then and gotten her own apprentice.

    Comment by nk — 1/2/2009 @ 12:29 pm

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