Lying is bad. At least, that’s what we as parents tell our children from a young age.
And yet when Christmas comes around, most of us throw traditional wisdom out the window and spin one of the biggest lies of all – the Santa lie.
It goes something like this – on Christmas Eve an ageing man with a white beard and red suit travels the world delivering presents to well-behaved children.
And year after year, until our children are old enough to know better, we maintain the charade because it’s fun, exciting and our children love it. And after all, it’s harmless, right?
Well, the answer to that question depends on your personal beliefs, or who you ask.
The case FOR the Santa lie
One of the strongest arguments for maintaining the Santa myth is the joy, happiness and pleasure it brings to the Christmas experience – something that many people look back on fondly as they age and hope to recapture with their own children.
Research conducted in the United Kingdom showed that almost 85% of people surveyed grew up believing in Santa Claus, with almost 60% of them believing it played an important role in holiday celebrations. To take that away would have a significant impact on the significance of the Christmas period.
The second reason for sticking to your Santa story is that your children behave better because they think they have to be good so that Santa brings them the presents they want. A study of two groups of children, aged 5-6 and 8-9, showed that children’s belief in an invisible person deterred them from cheating in a rule based task. The study involved observing the children undertaking the task while being observed by an invisible person, a real adult and being unsupervised. The children behaved as well while being observed by an invisible person as they did when observed by a real adult.
General Manager of early childhood provider Hessel Group, Rohan Feegrade, said one way to look at it is that it’s a no-win situation for parents either way, so why not go with the option that gives your children the most joy.
“The fact is that if you don’t engage in the Santa lie then you may be depriving your children of a magical childhood experience,” he said.
“So while you may be trying to avoid the loss of trust when the truth becomes known, it’s just as likely that they look back with resentment at being deprived of something special that many other children experienced.”
The case AGAINST the Santa lie
The most obvious argument against engaging in the Santa lie is the view that it erodes your children’s trust in you as parents when they find out the truth.
According to two experts, psychology professor Christopher Boyle and social scientist, Dr Kathy Mckay, telling stories about Santa risks undermining a child’s trust in their parents, and within a child’s reasoning, if parents are capable of lying about something so important, how can they be relied upon for other things.
This view is supported by numerous psychologists, with one suggesting it’s the equivalent to bribing your children for good behaviour.
However, psychologist Jacqueline Wooley, takes a different view, saying there is no evidence that a belief, and eventual disbelief in Santa, affects parental trust in any significant way.
“Furthermore, not only do children have the tools to ferret out the truth but engaging with the Santa story may give them a chance to exercise these abilities,” she said.
Perhaps a more rational argument against the Santa deception is that it may make it more difficult for children to distinguish between fantasy and reality – possibly delaying further cognitive development. However, studies have shown that children who engage in fantasies may actually be better at differentiating between fiction and reality.
Of course, some objections to the Santa lie aren’t based on the impacts on children, but around religious beliefs.
According to Rohan, whether to engage in the Santa lie comes down to your personal beliefs and experiences.
“There is no comprehensive research showing that lying to your children about Santa Clause has any significant or ongoing detrimental impacts on your relationship with your children or their development,” he said.
“If you do decide to play along with the Santa myth, you can have an honest conversation with your children when the time comes about the reasons you took that approach.
“If you’re upfront with them about the reasons you played along, I’m sure they won’t hold it against you for too long.