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Should parents lie to children about Father Christmas?

Article By: Melissa McAlees, News Editor

Telling ‘porky pies’ is a morally ambiguous exercise and while told knowingly for selfish purposes are for the most part unacceptable, there are some acceptable degrees of lying, if it means keeping 'Christmas alive' for as long as possible.

Considered a magical part of the tradition, millions of parents convince their children Father Christmas is real, but psychologist Christopher Boyle and mental health researcher Kathy McKay have urged parents to stop pretending in case the lie 'damages' their relationship.

Professor Boyle of the University of Exeter, said: "The morality of making children believe in such myths has to be questioned. If parents can lie about something so special and magical, can they be relied upon to continue as the guardians of wisdom and truth?

"All children will eventually find out they’ve been consistently lied to for years, and this might make them wonder what other lies they’ve been told.

"Whether it’s right to make children believe in Father Christmas is an interesting question, and it’s also interesting to ask whether lying in this way will affect children in ways that have not been considered."

According to research published in The Lancet Psychiatry, children’s trust in their parents may be undermined by the 'Santa lie', whilst the idea of an 'all-seeing North Pole intelligence agency', which judges every child as naughty or nice, can also be terrifying.

Yet the Father Christmas fantasy may not be purely for the children.

Research suggests that parents may not only be motivated by creating magic for their children, but by a desire to return to the joy of childhood memories themselves.

Dr McKay of the University of New England, Australia, said: "The persistence of fandom in stories like Harry Potter, Star Wars and Doctor Who well into adulthood demonstrates this desire to briefly re-enter childhood.

"Many people may yearn for a time when imagination was accepted and encouraged, which may not be the case in adult life.

"Might it be the case that the harshness of real life requires the creation of something better, something to believe in, something to hope for in the future or to return to a long-lost childhood a long time ago?"

A previous study, commissioned by children’s book publisher Nurserybox, found that a third of children stop believing in Father Christmas aged six-years-old, but join in the ritual of writing to the North Pole, hanging stockings, and leaving out mince pies to prevent their parents from feeling hurt and to safeguard extra presents.

One-in-three children find out about the Father Christmas myth through social media accounts, or after searching 'Is Santa Real?' on the internet.

While this does not typically affect a child’s love of Christmas, the study reveals it leaves the overwhelming majority of parents mourning the loss of childhood innocence.

Isobel Sinclair, creative director of NurseryBox, said: "Christmas is about children, about magic, and about imagination. It’s the one time of year when children can actually be children – a few precious days of the year when they can revel in the excitement, wonder at the mystery, and cherish the simpler things in life.

"This includes, or for many, revolves around the existence of a portly old gentleman in a red suit. Hang on to him for as long as you can, because when he’s gone, he’s gone forever."


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