It's 'not okay' to lie to kids about Santa, academics warn

Parents put on the naughty list as Aussie academics issue warning that encouraging children to believe in fictional characters can be "harmful" to their development.

It's 'not okay' to lie to kids about Santa, academics warn
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Lying to children about the existence of Santa Claus could be harmful to children, Australian academics have warned.

A number of academics have used the Christmas season to argue that parents should tell the truth about Santa when their children ask if he is real.

Developmental psychologist Dr Ameneh Shahaeian said it was harmful to encourage children to believe in fictional characters.

“Adults should not lie to children about Santa,” she said.

“When a child asks the question as to whether Santa is real or not, they're already at a developmental stage to distinguish between reality and fictional characters.

“When children reach this developmental stage, it's not helpful if we lie to them about a fictional character such as Santa.”

Other academics quickly agreed.

Queensland University of Technology education lecturer Dr Rebecca English said encouraging children to “believe a morally ambiguous lie” with “made up proof” was damaging to children.

“I'm not alone in being devastated learning of my parents' elaborate deceit about Santa, leaving me to wonder what other lies they had told,” she said.

“Santa supposedly encourages imagination but, you’re really asking children to suspend criticality and believe a fiction. 

“Why defer your authority to an omniscient North-Poler, an interloping elf and colour changing baubles? You bought those presents; you should take the kudos!”

Dr. Peter Ellerton, a senior lecturer in philosophy at The University of Queensland, said it was “not ok to lie” about Santa.

“Consider what must follow from the Santa story If only good children get presents, what does that say about poor families?” he said. “What value judgments are being formed? What if children themselves are poor? How does this narrative impact their sense of self-worth?”

Southern Cross University associate professor Dr David Zyngier said lying to children was “bad practice”, warning that “the more we tell lies, the more our kids are going to find out we are deceitful”.

But Associate Professor and Educational and Developmental Psychologist at Monash University, Dr. Kelly-Ann Allen, disagreed, arguing that maintaining the fiction around Santa helped to create “memory making” with children.

But she warned that parents had to think about making their children aware of the lie “at an age-appropriate time”.

“Lying to your child about Santa at three is very different from lying to your child about Santa at thirty,” she said.

“There is an onus for parents to support their children to come to their own natural conclusions about Santa within their own time.”

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  • By Avi Yemini

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