Kids Should be Allowed to Believe in Santa
If you have kids and you celebrate Christmas, you are most assuredly familiar with the ongoing debate surrounding Santa Claus. Basically, some people seem to be of the belief that believing in Santa Claus is harmful to children, and that you should tell them he doesn’t exist. Meanwhile, on the other side of the debate, some people are not monsters.
If you’re a parent trying to decide what to tell your children about Santa, there are thousands of articles out there like this one from Fatherly - articles that quote psychologists who are personally convinced that the myth of Santa is a damaging one. First of all, there’s a very good reason that the bad guy stepdad in The Santa Clause was a psychiatrist. Nothing against psychiatrists - my dad happens to be a very good one - I’m just saying it was a good choice.
Second of all, not once in my entire life have I ever met, or read about, or even heard about someone who had an otherwise amazing childhood and everything was great - but then they were psychologically damaged and broken by believing in Santa. It’s just absurd. Happy childhood, great family, loving parents, wonderful experiences - but whoops I believed in Santa while I was little. Woe is me. Nothing makes sense anymore! I’ll never love again!
I’m sorry - that doesn’t exist. In fact, it’s not uncommon for articles - including the previously mentioned one from Fatherly - to end with the psychologists hedging their bets and admitting that there’s no evidence that believing in Santa Claus ever hurt anybody.
As a father I feel like I have two priorities in raising my kids:
Teaching & Preparing - Passing on my knowledge and helping build priorities like empathy and compassion.
Providing a Magical Childhood - Stoking the fires of the imagination, encouraging creativity, and providing the types of experiences that promote a good sense of wonder.
Christmas and the entire Santa mythos that surrounds it is certainly one of the most magical and imaginative creations we have in our society. It’s the source of a lot of nostalgia and happiness for many people. If my fatherly priority is to stoke the fires of my child’s imagination - then I’d be a fool to deliberately ruin Christmas with no provocation. I’m going to prioritize making it a magical day for as long as possible. Hang the stockings. Set out cookies and carrots. Pull out the presents in the middle of the night for a big morning surprise.
On the other hand, other families might have other parenting priorities - like raising Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. That, of course, is their absolute right. But oftentimes it’s not presented that way. It’s a giant stretch for psychiatrists to suggest that the absence of Santa is an objectively better way to raise a child.
It seems to me that the psychologists who recommend the “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” method are quick to toss the baby out with the bathwater. They actually want you to deliberately state to your little one that Santa doesn’t exist. Somehow it’s supposed to be for their betterment. But there’s simply something about that concept that doesn’t pass the sniff test, and thankfully society in general still agrees with me, because saying Santa doesn’t exist to kids is still the kind of thing that gets people fired.
These grumps are just stuck on the idea that Christmas is a lie, and that children will be damaged and lose trust in their parents if they believe in Santa. But the fact of the matter is that this particular cause-and-effect relationship simply doesn’t exist. And besides, there’s a big difference between deliberately telling a toddler that Santa is fake so that they never believe, and having a heart-to-heart with a 7-year-old who starts to have their own questions. Logic and imagination do not have to be enemies.
Take for example this parenting story about the Tooth Fairy from famous astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson. When his daughter lost a tooth, he and his wife told her they heard about a fairy who leaves money if you put your tooth under the pillow. In the morning, she found money and showed her parents. Tyson asked her how she knew it was the Tooth Fairy. Their daughter later tested a theory with her friends. When one of them lost a tooth, they placed it under their pillow without telling their parents, and there was no money in the morning.
When told about this story, Gail Heyman, professor of psychology at the University of California - San Diego, praised the Tysons for their parenting approach - which promoted critical thinking and thinking for yourself. She also pointed out that there is no proof that telling your child that the Tooth Fairy exists is harmful.
Some parents might want to skip Santa Claus, and that’s their choice. Perhaps they’ll say it’s because they don’t want to lie to their kids, and of course that’s an honorable sentiment. But it’s disingenuous to claim that believing in Santa is harmful in any way. It’s simply not a fact, and I don’t want to hear it presented that way anymore.
Personally I’m afraid that skipping the whole thing - telling our 2-year-old that Santa isn’t real - would deprive our child of many potential years of childhood magic and happiness. They’d miss out on many precious memories that we tend to hold onto our whole lives. We grow old and we become nostalgic for the simpler times when we believed in Santa, not the time we were 2 and our honest dad saved us from the horrors of acting like a child.
Have your kids asked about the existence of Santa yet? How old were they, and what did you say? Let us know in the comments - unless you’re a grumpy psychologist. It’s Christmas time.