Friday, December 24, 2010

The Psychological Effect of the Santa Claus Myth

Is it healthy to have your kids believe in Santa Claus?  This tradition which we so commonly practice seems a little questionable, doesn't it?  To build up a false reality in the child's mind, allow them to dream about it for years, only to later have it revealed as a grand conspiracy of deception?  A deception with no logical purpose?  What is this teaching kids?  

Alison Gopnik, professor of psychology at UC Berekely claims that children intuitively know the difference between pretending and reality, and states that children love Santa Claus "Because they like to pretend. And when children pretend, they are exercising the evolutionarily crucial human ability to envision alternative ways the world could be. In adults that ability is at the core of our very real capacities for invention and innovation."  (Blah, blah, blah...)  Sorry, Alison, but that's just not so.  Kids love Santa because he gives them toys and candy.  And he is not pretend to the kids.  As an ex-child myself, I think that many children do believe in Santa, 100 percent.  

But even if we take Alison's description of children's relationship to the Santa mythology to be true, then we can still ask, what is the point of this elaborate game?  Even the US postal service has pledged to "deliver" all letters addressed to "Santa Claus - North Pole".  (What happens to these letters, I wonder.)   We're going through a lot of trouble to perpetuate this myth, so what are our children gaining by it?

I have a theory that most adults subconsciously fear the boundless realms of the imagination, because we know that enough imaginative thinking could destroy the order by which our reality is shaped, and could lead to the unraveling of integral systems of government, transportation, economics, etc.  

The practice of building and then destroying the Santa Claus mythology within a child's mind is an effective way of destroying children's faith in their own imagination.  Children inevitably learn that Santa is a lie, and when they do they feel tricked.  In order to avoid feeling this way again, they avoid using their imagination.  They will most likely be more skeptical and close-minded to fantastical ideas, concepts and alternate realities.

But maybe it's a healthy amount of skepticism.  Maybe kids need to learn a distinction between imagination and reality, and the Santa Claus drama helps to define that.

What do you think?

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