How to Tell if you are Lying to your Kid about Santa

A while back I argued that it is immoral to lie to children about Santa, Richard Chapell over at Philosophy, etc responded that pretending with the child that there is a Santa is a morally acceptable and praise-worthy action. I tend to agree with him on this point. But I do not think that most people are pretending with their children.

Evidence for this comes from the strong social pressure not to tell children that there is no Santa. If this is all pretense and everyone knows it then what is wrong with pointiing out that we are pretending. If you tell a child pretending that a banna is a phone that the object they are using is really a bannana and not a phone they will tell you that they know that and keep pretending. But if you tell a child that there is no Santa this is not the reaction that one typically gets.

So how can you tell if you are pretending or not? One sure fire way is how you deal with the question ‘Mommy/Daddy is Santa real?’ but it seems to me that if your child has to ask this question then you haven’t been pretending.

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8 thoughts on “How to Tell if you are Lying to your Kid about Santa

  1. Hmm.. But what if the kids believed that Santa really existed, without their parents telling them so- like, if they learned it at school or whatever, and the kids’ parents never did anything to refute or confirm that belief (that Santa exists)? The parents never lied to the kids or pretended with them. Only that the parents never said anything. Would that be morally acceptable?

  2. I tried to see if it’d be morally acceptable from the Kantian and utilitarian views but I can’t figure it out.. Or maybe I just suck at this?

    By using the Categorical Imperative, I came up with that it wouldn’t be contradictory if parents never said anything to their kids about Santa. And in a utilitarian view, more kids would be happy by leaving them alone with their own beliefs regarding Santa.

    So in other words, parents ought to stay silent when it comes to their children and Santa’s existence..? It doesn’t sound right to me but maybe, I seriously suck at this.

  3. Are you familiar with an article by Sam Gill entitled “Disenchantment: A Religious Abduction”? (I’m a religionist, not a philosopher — Gill’s article is a ‘classic’ work of ethnography/ritual theory.) The Hopi Indians have a ritual where spirit-beings called “kachinas” supposedly visit the village and flog the children. The kachinas are actually adult villagers dressed in masks. Gill’s article contains interviews of adults who reminisce about the awful moment when they discover that the kachinas are people they know.

    Gill argues that “disenchantment” is an important part of the process of maturation. One day (he says) all children need to learn that the world is not as it seems. Bluntly put, the kachina discovery helps children to deal with the crisis so that later, when they are lied to about something that could really hurt them, they have the tools to deal with it. (Gill’s argument is much more sophisticated than this, but you see my point.)

    Of course every single one of these children will eventually grow up to dress like kachinas themselves.

  4. One way the whole thing might be justified is as an elaborate practical joke. A & B play the practical joke on their kids, C & D; C marries E and carries on the practical joke with their kids; those kids carry on the tradition, and so forth.

    So, for instance, a common sort of practical joke is this. You take some greenhorn and suggest that you go hunting snipe (or tipping cows or sighting jackalopes…); you psych them up for it by talking all about how snipe have such and such features, and so forth, and lead them down the merry trail. And eventually they realize they’ve been had. Everyone has a good time, nobody gets hurt. Most people will regard this as a situation in which stating falsehoods is not lying, and therefore not immoral. I’m not convinced that this quite has things right; but it does seem important that the Santa point would be generalizable to all sorts of larks and jokes, which suddenly become forbidden as immoral because they involve stating falsehoods with the intent of pulling the wool over someone’s eyes, even if the assumption is that it is only temporarily.

  5. Well that’s right up there with “your grandmother went to heaven honey” I knew your grandmother and if there is a heaven or hell then she’s no whre near the pearly gates. So what do we tell the children and at what age do you tell them whatever you tell them? Should children be protected from certain truths or lies?

  6. Hi EJ thanks for the comments!

    I don’t really see how a kid could get to the age where they could ask the question ‘is Santa real’ and not have got some kind of information from their parents one way or the other about whether he is real or not…but yeah, I suppose if somehow it turned out that Santa was never mentioned and the chold thought that he was real, then MAYBE there was nothing immoral done on the part of the parents, but I dunno…I mean, think about the same kid thinking that Darth Vader was real (same scenerio, parents never talked one way or the other about him)…doesn’t it seem that the parents are a little remiss here?

    As for you second question…Kant thinks that the categorical imperative striclty forbids one from lying EVER for ANY PURPOSE so it would obviously be immoral on his account to lie to children…though he does seem to allow that one can with hold information (I do not have to tell you my PIN number), I am not sure if it would be OK just to clam up about Santa, especially if the motive was to decieve the child via ommission of some information…as for a utilitarian account, I think that it actually causes more harm to children to be lied to about this stuff, but that can be debated. The question would have to be ‘does the harm inflicted by lying outweigh the good of believing in Santa?’ I say no!

    ASG, thanks for the comment!! And thanks for the link!

    I am not familiar with that article but I look forward to reading it when I get a chance!

    I must say that I am not convinced by what you say. Is this the only way to prepare people for the disapointment that life will bring? If it is not, then the question arises as to whether this should be the method. I think it is obvious that there are other, more moral ways of impressing this upon young minds. I mean, we could teach them that lesson by beating them, or raping them instead of scaring them or lying about Santa, but obviously those are unacceptable ways to do it! So, why are these ways any better? Especially when there are ways to do it that do not involve lying and deception!

    Hi Brandon, thanks for the comment!! I sympathise with your remark about practical jokes, but there are cruel practical jokes and so there does seem to be a way to limit this. Not every practical joke is permissible, morally speaking, is it?

    Hi again CHRISSYSNOW, I don’t think that there is really any reason to lie to children or to keep things from them. I think that you should always honestly answer a child’s questions no matter what age they ask them at. This is one way of getting the disenchantment that AGS spoke of without having to do any decieving.

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