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Parents have a tendency to encourage the belief in event-related fantasy figures. One fantasy figure that many children are encouraged to believe in is Santa Claus. The mythical Santa Claus, according to Christian supporters of the myth, represents Saint Nicholas who was caring for Christian children (Adams 272; Gallagher 285). However, many Christians do not subscribe to the idea of allowing their children to believe the myth because they believe that the mythical figure has been turned into a secular object (Hall 60).
On the other hand, many antagonists do not subscribe to the mythical believe because Santa Claus has Christian roots. Santa Claus has been a powerful cultural figure associated with many Christians in America. In fact, Cyr declares, “Santa Claus is one of the most popular mythical figures of childhood in Western culture” (1325). Santa Claus is a vital player in the Myths and rituals that surround the Christmas holiday, and to most Americans, it would not be Christmas without him (371).
For this reason, most parents take it upon themselves to promote the belief in Santa in their children. They do this by telling stories about Santa and engaging in actions to make the myth believable. Parents do this since for them, the Santa myth is a part of the Christmas tradition and it causes great joy to the family. However, child-rearing experts differ in their opinions concerning the effect that the belief in Santa Claus has on children.
In fact, it has been shown that about 75% of children below the age of 3 years are terrified of the Santa character. While some claim that the Santa myth is harmless, others assert that it is damaging to the development of the child. This paper will argue that parental promotion of a belief in Santa Claus is harmful to children’s psychological development and it should therefore be avoided.
Why Promoting the Belief in Santa is Harmful
The Santa myth might lead to a decrease in the trust that children have in their parents. Parents are the first persons who play crucial roles in shaping personalities of their children. Children learn from their parents several aspects in life. To promote the belief in Santa, parents have to engage in an elaborate lie to make Santa seem real (Halkoaho and Laaksonen 250).
Parents begin by introducing the notion of Santa to their children and they proceed to engage in activities such as filling stockings with gifts in order to make the myth believable. They also explain away any anomaly that might arise therefore ensuring that the children buy into the Santa myth. This elaborate lying, which often takes place over the course of many years, can have the negative effect of undermining the trust that children have in their parents. Eventually, the child will learn the truth about Santa and stop believing.
When this happens, children may suffer from some form of disillusionment. Once children realize that their parents have been cheating them, they develop mistrust in their parents. They could now adopted the idea of cheating in life because it was perpetuated by people they believed were role models in their lives. In fact, children could start lying to their parents and their friends at school.
They could be defensive and tell their parents that they cheated them that Santa Claus existed. Zoba declares that in some ways, parents teach their children not to believe in anything when they encourage the belief in Santa (43). The reason for this is that the parents, who often have the full trust of their children, are the main conspirators in the deception.
Santa might have a negative impact on the development of children by causing unnecessary fear in the child. Teitel explains that Santa creates fear in children by confirming the existence of other unlikable fantasy figures (1).
By validating the existence of Santa Claus, adults also confirm the existence of other fantastical beings such as supernatural monsters. Woolley and Cornelius demonstrate that children who believe in fantastical beings such as Santa Claus are more likely to endorse the existence of a range of other fantastical beings including monsters, ghosts, and witches (63). On the contrary, children who do not believe in Santa are less likely to believe in the reality of other fantastical beings.
A child who believes in Santa is therefore more likely to believe in the bogeyman or a scary monster who resides in his closet. Parental promotion of the belief in Santa therefore harms the child by causing fear in nonexistent creatures. This fear could have lifetime effects on the child who was made to believe that there are some fearful creatures in life. The fear could go a long way in negatively impacting a child’s academic performance. Worse still, the fear could lead the child to have strained relationship with his peers at school.
The Santa myth exposes children to cognitive dissonance once they realize that Santa does not exist. Cognitive dissonance is the uncomfortable feeling that a person experiences when he is faced with contradictory information or ideas. While this condition might be an opportunity for personal growth, it can also lead to irrational behavior if it is not handled well. By perpetuating the belief in Santa, parents increase the probability that their children will suffer from cognitive dissonance.
It can lead to irrational behavior by the child. Jones and Ince document that the level of cognitive dissonance experienced by an individual can be alleviated by reasserting the previously held belief (52). For a child who is unready to give up his belief in Santa, this might entail forcefully rejecting any claims that Santa is unreal. In extreme cases, the child may reassert his former beliefs by demonstrating aggression towards children who claim that Santa does not exist.
Parental promoting of belief in Santa Claus predisposes the children to developing magical thinking in their teenage and adult years. Rosengren and French explain that exposure to Santa Claus increases the probability that children will treat certain events or occurrences as special or out of the ordinary (43). Magical thinking might result in illogical and irrational thoughts by the individual. While mild magical thinking is not harmful, Lazarus asserts that intense magical thinking can be a serious cognitive distortion (1).
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This distortion can lead to the development of mental disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and in extreme cases psychosis. These conditions affect the ability of the individual to function properly in society. Most parents justify their decision to promote a belief in Santa Claus by stating that these beliefs and magical thinking will eventually be eliminated as the child is exposed to expanded access to science and mathematics education.
However, this is not the case and magical thinking tends to remain in the minds of the child and is still present even in adulthood. Rosengren and French reveal that magical thinking does not go away with time since it stems to a large extent from a person’s cognitive architecture (56). Cognitive orientation of the mind is crucial in shaping how children view and judge events and things not only in childhood but also in adulthood.
Children’s belief in the fantastical being, Santa Claus, may lead to a general orientation towards fantasy. This orientation increases the likelihood that the child will engage in fantastical pursuits such as pretending to have an imaginary companion. The creation of imaginary friends is considered normal and a healthy exhibition of the child’s imaginativeness.
However, imaginary friends may also pose a danger to the child’s development. Imaginary friends might inhibit social development as the child’s ability to socialize with his/her peers may be strained due to the existence of his/her imaginary friends. Having these fictional friends can also lead to reclusiveness, as the child might be unwilling to interact with others.
Interaction during a child’s formative years is crucial in determining how the child would interact with human beings in the future. Children who rarely interact with other persons at school rarely fit in the society. In extreme cases, the imaginary friend might develop a persona of his own. Studies indicate that children with imaginary companions are more likely to suffer from conditions such as dissociative identity disorders (Lydon 5). All these negative outcomes can be avoided by discouraging the belief in fantastical beings.
The belief Santa Claus might lead to the development of poor coping responses by children. As noted, promoting a belief in Santa Claus encourages children to engage in fantastical thinking. While this thinking might be used for fun endeavors at the onset, the child might later use it as a form of escape. As the child develops, he/she will face situations that evoke emotions such as fear and anxiety.
Healthy coping responses in such situations are necessary for proper psychological development. Research indicates that children project their fears and anxieties onto their playthings (Lydon 5). Children who believe in fantasy figures are likely to create and use fantasy figures to help them cope with emotionally challenging situations. This leads to a form of escapism where the child attempts to shield himself/herself from the unfavorable reality.
Children might escape into fantasy to cope with issues such as a dysfunctional family environment. Such a solution provides short-term relief but it does not address the problem. The child is likely to suffer from psychological disturbances in the future due to this maladaptive intervention. The parental promotion of Santa Claus, which leads to these outcomes, should be avoided in order to safeguard the child’s psychological development.
Healthy psychological development would help children to become better individuals in the future because they would not be haunted by childhood events and memories. They would also have excellent interactions with their schoolmates and friends at home. In addition, the children who would not be haunted by the memories of Santa Claus would have better academic performance in school than children who would be disturbed by remembering the mythical figure associated with Christmas.
Arguments in Support of Perpetuating the Santa Myth
A major argument in support of perpetuating the Santa myth is that this activity brings about enormous enjoyment for the children. The Christmas season is made more enjoyable for most children by adding the Santa persona.
In addition to this, Breen declares that Santa Claus is associated with some socio-cognitive benefits since this character encourages the development of attributes such as kindness and he reinforces family and social norms (1). Opponents of parental promotion of the Santa myth argue that children are traumatized when they discover the truth about Santa.
It is true that all children eventually learn that Santa is not real as their causal reasoning level increases with age. However, this revelation does not traumatize or emotionally damage the children. A study by Cyr on the reaction by children on discovering that Santa did not exist indicated that over 50% of the children studied liked the idea of Santa even after they realized that he was not real (1328).
The reason for this might be that for most children, Santa Claus was a character that helped them enjoy their Christmas festivities even better. In fact, there would be no Christmas without the mythical Santa Claus gift giving practices. Even their parents would not allow their children to celebrate Christmas without the gifts associated with Santa Claus. However, there are doubts concerning the degree to which children enjoy Santa. Even though most parents are keen to perpetuate the Santa myth, not all children think positively of Santa.
Zoba documents that an estimated 75% of children below the age of 3 years are terrified of the Santa character (42). Anderson and Prentice confirm that children are often involved in the Santa Claus myth against their will and parents actually derive more enjoyment from the experience than the children do (68). Thus, it could be essential for parents to assess the benefits their children gain from believing and practising the cultural activities associated with Santa Claus.
Advocates of parental promotion of the Santa myth assert that this myth does not cause children to lose touch with reality. Thompson and Hickey contend that it is possible to acknowledge a myth to be unreal, yet play along with it, regarding it as a harmless, or even a useful fantasy (372). This is the case with the Santa myth which most parents feel is harmless and a cause of joy during the festive seasons.
In as much as children are introduced to Santa and made to believe that this fantastical character exists, their perception of what is real and what is not is still strong. Research shows that children are good at differentiating fantasy from reality (Woolley and Cornelius 65). It can therefore be expected that even after being introduced to the Santa myth in their formative years, children would be able to tell the differences between fantasies and facts in the future.
An argument offered in support of parental promotion of belief in Santa Claus is that perpetrating this myth helps to develop an active imagination in the children. Woolley and Cornelius declare that the belief in some sort of fantastical being is common to almost all children (61).
These beliefs in fantastical beings represent an integral component of children’s imaginative abilities. Children who are introduced to fantasies and active imagination early in life tend to think critically and analytically in the future. This goes a long way in helping children to provide critical solutions to many problems in life. Critical and Woolley and Cornelius confirm that children mostly rely on what others tell them to develop a complete concept of Santa Claus (61).
Participating in this conceptualization leads to children exercising their ability to think about possibilities. Since children never get to see Santa and his reindeers, they have to envision this image in their heads. Children also have to create images of the North Pole where Santa resides with his numerous helper elves. The cognitive development of children is therefore stimulated even as they engage in this imaginative thinking.
Mental imagery is a crucial component of child development that has been implicated in other studies involving creation of false memories by students. However, Lazarus asserts that children naturally have a very active and engaging imagination of their own (1). As such, they do not need fictional characters like Santa Claus for their inherent creativity to be stimulated. This reason for promoting the Santa myth is therefore invalid since children who are not introduced to this fantasy still demonstrate a rich imagination rich in the future.
This paper set out to argue that parental promoting of belief in Santa Claus is harmful to children’s psychological development. It began by noting that the Santa figure plays a central role in the Christmas celebrations of most Americans. A good number of Christian parents in America ensure that their children observe the practices associated with Santa Claus. For this reason, most parents feel the need to promote the Santa Claus myth. The paper has revealed that this perpetuation of the Santa Claus myth is damaging to children.
It causes reduced trust in parents and predisposes children to psychological disturbances that would affect children in the future. While the Santa myth might cause joy to some children, the damaging effects are severe and do not justify promoting this myth. Parents should assess the benefits that Santa Claus myth offer to their children. All parents who are concerned about the future well being of their children should therefore avoid promoting the belief in Santa by their children.
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