Skepticism

Why It’s OK to Lie to Kids About Christmas

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Sorta transcript:

Hey guys, this is just a quick reminder for all you hardcord skeptics and atheists out there worried about your sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, and random children you see at the mall: it’s ok to lie to kids about Christmas.

I know that some of you end up scarred and bitter about your parents having lied to you about Santa, but I assure you it’s not a big deal. Research shows that most kids turn out just fine after learning that Santa is all a big fraud. There’s also been a good deal of research into kids’ critical thinking skills, and the Santa Myth is a pretty good testing ground for them to work out their bullshit detectors.

Years ago, some psychologists told a bunch of children about the Candy Witch, a mythical being they made up for the purposes of science. The Candy Witch, they said, would take candy left under your pillow after Halloween and replace it with a small toy. For half the kids, they had the parents actually do the Candy Witch swap. For the other half, nothing. What they found was really interesting: little kids, maybe 4 years old, believed or disbelieved in the Candy Witch regardless of whether or not their parents played along. But for slightly older kids, like 5 or 6 years old, they were much more likely to believe in the Candy Witch if the parents played along.

This means that the older kids had learned to look for evidence. That’s a critical component of the bullshit detector, and they were putting it to good use. That’s why kids that age believe in Santa — not because they’re stupid or gullible but because they look for evidence and they get it! So much evidence! They hear songs about Santa. They see him in films. They get letters from him. They sit on his damn lap and ask him for a present and then they GET THAT VERY PRESENT.

That’s evidence. The only reason kids that age don’t catch on to the fact that Santa isn’t real is because they’re missing one crucial part of their bullshit detector: the understanding that people, even grownups, even grownups you trust deeply, are assholes who will lie to you.

By the time the kids are 7 or 8, they generally have that information and they use it. The Santa myth is a crucial time that provides a very important lesson for them. A lot of kids who learn that lesson go on to realize that adults are lying or just mistaken about a lot of things, like Jesus and psychics and sugar making you hyper. Kids who don’t learn the lesson? Well, Scientology has to get new recruits from somewhere.

So this holiday season, remember that it’s not only fun to lie to kids, but it’s also a critical learning experience. Merry Christmas everyone.

 

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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9 Comments

  1. December 21, 2015 at 8:26 pm —

    Hilarious! Dale McGowan wrote a great post with a similar point in the Secular Spectrum: Text to appear linked.

    • December 21, 2015 at 8:29 pm —

      Okay, so you can clearly see that I’m still figuring out how to use html. ;-)

    • December 21, 2015 at 8:31 pm —

      Okay, so you can clearly see that I’m still figuring out how to use html. ;-) The link works, but that was just sample text–doh!

  2. December 21, 2015 at 8:38 pm —

    Oy, I thought I remembered there was a way to delete comments!

  3. December 22, 2015 at 12:54 am —

    This might be a bit off-topic, but I feel like it is a related point.

    Jerk atheists like to call theism a delusion or mental illness, but is it really? Especially when, like Santa, all the adults you trust tell you it is true and tell you that all the good things are proof of it? Kids believe Santa and religion for the same reasons, and culturally we only burst the bubble on one of those. Just food for thought.

    More on topic: I became an atheist at 5-6 years old because I had terrible nightmares about fairy tales. My folks explained to me that I shouldn’t treat stories involving magic and monsters and such as real life stuff. So when I saw “Bible Stories for Kids” I knew from my parents that it wasn’t real. :)

    • December 22, 2015 at 3:02 pm —

      Joe, you make a good point. We could make a similar argument about the crap we are fed by many politicians and billionaires like Trump or that Mars One guy. None of it stands critical examination, but I truly wonder whether they believe their own propaganda? Is that even important, so long as us rubes (the voters or the investors) are sucked in? Are they, the billionaires, more or less culpable if they truly believe their own delusions?

  4. December 23, 2015 at 4:37 pm —

    I realize you did not say that it wasn’t, but it’s also OK to NOT lie to kids about Christmas. Kids are just fine at playing pretend. Kids constantly make up stories *that they know they just made up* and yet still enjoy it greatly. I honestly just don’t understand WHY parents lie to their children about various supernatural entities seeing as playing pretend is perfectly fun. The researchers were doing it FOR SCIENCE. It’s not particularly relevant to my life, but while it might not be damaging for people to lie to their kids about Christmas, I don’t think it’s my job to do so as well if it were to come up.

    I’m pretty glad to know that it doesn’t seem to be damaging. I can’t recall if I’ve ever asserted that it is or probably is. I don’t consciously remember ever believing in any supernatural gift-bringers, and of the adults I know who do, I don’t know of anyone who reported being traumatized by disillusionment for more than a few days. I do think there’s possibly more possible inroads to negative effects than are explored by this one particular study, but I don’t know if lying to children about Santa, Easter Bunny, and Tooth Fairy are the worst offenders if any such unstudied effect does exist.

    • December 27, 2015 at 8:18 am —

      Thanks for this point! It’s amazing how guilty people can make me feel about never having claimed to my kid that Santa Claus is real. I only remember being told about Santa in a kind of joking way, where it was clear we were all pretending something fun. So I did the same with my kid, and tried to teach him that it is important not to burst other kids’ bubbles (he slipped up a few crucial times, though). I feel this teaches him religious tolerance, since he’s also got to learn not to go around gratuitously telling people their pretend god isn’t real.

  5. December 29, 2015 at 10:40 am —

    If you want to be a jerky atheist about it and a stickler for truth, tell every child that THEY WILL DIE NO MATTER WHAT.

    It’s the truth. right? They will die, and that will be that, no heaven, no seeing grandma again, just DEATH. And it WILL happen.

    That’s the factual truth. But we don’t tell kids or each other that every damned day.

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