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Gorgo
SFN Die Hard

USA
5310 Posts

Posted - 12/27/2009 :  18:45:53  Show Profile Send Gorgo a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I thought this Tim Wise post about Santa might provoke a little discussion here. Tim Wise is a brilliant writer, but either I'm misundertanding the point of this essay, or he got a couple of things wrong.

For nearly two years she has expressed her doubts, and for nearly two years we have managed to rebuff them, to maintain the illusion a bit longer, less for her sake no doubt than for ours. This is what parents do, if not about Santa then about something. Parenthood is, to a very large extent (or so it seems), about the telling of small lies to one's children. Nothing too gargantuan, but the kind of minor fibs calculated to instill a measure of extra hopefulness in a young life, which life we the parents know will become more complicated than the child can possibly imagine in years to come.


I am sure there are those--indeed I have met a few--who sneer at such sentimentality, but if so, it is in all likelihood because they are not parents, or because they are the kind of parents who believe one should always be brutally honest with one's children, no matter what, that one should deal with a child the way one might deal with an adult peer: as someone who is not only fully capable of dealing with the unvarnished truth, but also as one who is not deserving of something quite a bit better than merely that. To suggest that we should offer them false hope, false belief, only to dash those hopes that we ourselves created later, is, to some, an act of cruelty.

Fair enough, I suppose, though the kind of person who insists on such hard-headed rationality with kindergartners is the kind of parent I wouldn't care to spend much time with, nor would I wish the presence of their children, raised on such cold cynicism from an early age, in the classrooms where my own sit each day. Because there is a function to childhood fantasy, and it's one about which we forget, at our peril.

You see, the fantasies and dreams and hopes of youth are what fuel their creativity. Those fantasies and dreams and hopes, which we indulge even when we know they are largely to remain unfulfilled, are what make life worth living. It is hard to conceive of a world in which everyone hewed merely to the realm of the literal, to that which they could see and touch and feel. Though I am agnostic--and this is a position to which I adhere because there are lots of things I don't know, and you don't either, and at least in my case, I'm perfectly OK with that--I am glad for the existence of people whose faith sustains them, who continue to believe in the possibility of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Wonderment is healthy, as with skepticism, and to have too much of one without the other leaves us a world dangerously out of balance. For while dreamers often fail us, to be sure, so too have empiricists of every stripe.

In many ways, I'd rather follow the example of dreamers, the likes of which most all children are, than that set forth by adults, who so often stopped dreaming years ago.


Here is my response (via Facebook).

Let me preface this by saying I was not honest about Santa with my children. After having thought about it for many years, I wonder if that was a good thing.

You seem to be saying that there is only a choice between lying to children and being "brutally honest." I think that's a false choice. You seem to be saying that without lying to children, they won't know how to be imaginative or have hope, yet it is not their imagination that creates Santa, and false hopes are just that. They are false. They are delusions. Should I have told my son that he couldn't be Superman? He never asked me. I think if he had, I would have told him that if he ever wanted to try flying, to start from a very low place, with adult supervision.

I'm not going to condemn anyone for telling their children that Santa exists. But I wonder if it isn't teaching children that reality isn't good enough. I wonder if it isn't using their gullibility and excitement for our own entertainment. Did I make them into toys for my own amusement? I don't know.

Oh, and I think you know that the concepts of justice and injustice exist, or you wouldn't write the great stuff that you write. About gods in general, I am also agnostic, and therefore atheist. We can't say for certain that there isn't some supernatural or near supernatural being somewhere in the universe. But, we know how well people make up stories, and since there is no reasonable evidence for their existence, I'd say it's a good bet that Thor and Hercules don't exist.


Then I sucked up a little more, because he's a nice man, and a great speaker and writer.

By the way, thanks for the thought-provoking post, and thanks for all your brilliant work.

I know the rent is in arrears
The dog has not been fed in years
It's even worse than it appears
But it's alright-
Jerry Garcia
Robert Hunter



H. Humbert
SFN Die Hard

USA
4574 Posts

Posted - 12/27/2009 :  19:03:23   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send H. Humbert a Private Message  Reply with Quote
My view is this. Telling young kids that Santa is real is fine, for all the reasons Wise mentions. At that age, children often confuse reality and fantasy anyway. (How many children think Big Bird is a real bird?) The harm comes, in my opinion, when the children begin to grow and make these distinctions on their own but adults fail to support them. If your child is beginning to express skepticism, that's the perfect opportunity to make them think about the reasons behind their beliefs.

Don't think Santa is real? Why not? Probe their thinking. Because he couldn't travel to every house in the world in a single evening? That's good thinking! Because Suzy Crabtree said in school that Santa was make believe? Bad reasoning! Help your children come to the correct conclusion on their own in their own time. For every child that's going to be different.

But to actively rebuff a child's valid doubts? I can't imagine sending a worse message. That's not protecting a child's innocence, that's foisting innocence upon them for the parent's benefit. It's stunting the child's natural development. At least Wise recognizes that he holding his child back for his own sake, and not for their best interest.


"A man is his own easiest dupe, for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true." --Demosthenes

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool." --Richard P. Feynman

"Face facts with dignity." --found inside a fortune cookie
Edited by - H. Humbert on 12/27/2009 19:05:10
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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26012 Posts

Posted - 12/27/2009 :  19:19:52   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
This part,
...I am glad for the existence of people whose faith sustains them, who continue to believe in the possibility of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Wonderment is healthy, as with skepticism, and to have too much of one without the other leaves us a world dangerously out of balance. For while dreamers often fail us, to be sure, so too have empiricists of every stripe.
seems to me to be pure cynicism. He's saying that either you're filled with hope and faith and wonderment, or you're a die-hard empiricist, with the implication that your life is lacking in the least bit of joy.

This is, of course, a false dichotomy. There are plenty of people like Carl Sagan and Phil Plait whose goal seems to be to share with everyone their wonderment and fascination with the natural world. The author seems to be of the opinion that no such scientists exist.

Reality is more than enough to generate those attributes for which Mr. Wise thinks he needs to lie to his kid.

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
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Why not question something for a change?
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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13467 Posts

Posted - 12/27/2009 :  19:50:40   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Gorgo:
But I wonder if it isn't teaching children that reality isn't good enough.

Hell. Reality isn't even good enough for adults, or we wouldn't read or watch any fiction, which usually requires a suspension of reality for at least a little while. I understand that we have suspended reality, and it's retrievable when it's time to get back to the real world. But boy, would it be a bummer if we couldn't enjoy a good sci-fi or fantasy now and then? I guess my point is that some part of us, even those of us who promote skepticsm, like to step out of reality from time to time, probably because it serves us in some way. (Dreams are pretty much all fantasy and we would be screwed without them.)

It's not a huge leap to consider the likelihood that some fantasies are good for children, even if to them they are completely believable until they aren't anymore. (That happens as their brains develop.) It's not doing them a disservice to allow them to believe certain fantasies, because they will need that skill, at least to some extent, to become well adjusted adults with good imaginations.

Both of my boys believed there was a Santa until they didn't anymore. And they are both skeptics.


Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

Genetic Literacy Project
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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26012 Posts

Posted - 12/27/2009 :  21:17:38   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
My kid understands that Santa isn't real, that it's a game we play, but he stills writes letters to Santa at the North Pole because it's fun.

He also has imaginary friends, but he knows that they are imaginary. But still, he treats them as real, while he's playing, and clearly (to me) uses them to practice his social skills. When he's not playing, these friends just don't exist.

Nobody is saying that fantasy doesn't serve a purpose. But there seems little reason for any parent to tell a child that a fantasy is real. Imagination and creativity are fostered through play and make-believe. Asserting that these things are anything but pretend is the issue here.

Is there any evidence that telling children that fantasies are only fantasies somehow negatively affects their development?

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
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Why not question something for a change?
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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13467 Posts

Posted - 12/27/2009 :  21:43:17   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Dave:
Is there any evidence that telling children that fantasies are only fantasies somehow negatively affects their development?

I don't know.

I'm not suggesting that one way is better than the other. Also, I suspect that the concept of a fantasy vs. reality or pretend might be beyond children under the age of three or so. What I was responding to is the idea that "reality isn't good enough" is the lesson learned. I think there might be a danger of that if the parents push their own real belief in a fantasy. Religion would be an example of that, I suppose. Kids seem to have the ability to figure out the Santa thing on their own. And it can serve as a teaching moment, as Humbert has suggested. I don't know many adults who still believe in Santa.

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

Genetic Literacy Project
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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26012 Posts

Posted - 12/27/2009 :  22:41:58   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
The reality that fantasy isn't real, but is still important (even vital), should be enough.

And sure, the differences between fantasy and reality may be tough for very young kids, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to teach them. At age five, my kid asked me whether Santa was real. He wasn't upset when I told him the truth. He was asking because he wanted to know.

And I wasn't about to lie to him when he would, with time, figure out later that I had lied to him. If nothing else, my boy knows that I won't lie to him. But I still join him in his wildly imaginative games, and we both have fun, and he learns about reality from those games still.

The only time we've had a problem was when he decided that things like hover-boards or "robots that will do anything you tell them to do" were not only possible, but that I should be able to build him such things before his next birthday. He got very upset when I told him that nobody knows how to create such things right now, and he insisted (for a while) that I just wasn't trying hard enough. But finally, he understood that it was much more important for him to pretend he owned such things now, and have fun doing so, that it was for him to get disappointed that these things weren't among his next set of gifts. Because when he was peppering me with questions or demands about these impossible gizmos (for hours at a time), he wasn't having any fun, he was getting stressed and angry (so was I), and I couldn't explain their impossibility in terms that he could understand. The best thing that came out of these exchanges was his increased commitment to education, as I emphasized how if he wanted to make such things for himself when he got older, he'd have to study, study, study.

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
Evidently, I rock!
Why not question something for a change?
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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13467 Posts

Posted - 12/27/2009 :  23:17:29   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Dave:
And sure, the differences between fantasy and reality may be tough for very young kids, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to teach them. At age five, my kid asked me whether Santa was real. He wasn't upset when I told him the truth. He was asking because he wanted to know.

Exactly. No reason to lie to him when he comes right out and asks you. He wouldn't be asking if doubt wasn't creeping in. I haven't suggested that lying to the kids is a good thing, exactly. And especially when they ask. But let me ask you. Was there ever a stocking from Santa? Were any of the gifts that you gave him from Santa, before he asked?

In any case, both of my kids know that I am not a liar. And if they hadn't figured it out themselves, I absolutely eventually would have told them that I am, indeed, the tooth fairy and Santa Claus around this house. And then I would have explained it to them.

When Zachary asked me about Santa the first time, I asked him what he thought? At that time he wanted to hedge his bets. By the next year (I honestly can't remember whether he was 5 or six) he pretty much told me that me that he was hip. And from then on, Santa was a pretend thing.

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

Genetic Literacy Project
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Gorgo
SFN Die Hard

USA
5310 Posts

Posted - 12/28/2009 :  01:42:28   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Gorgo a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Kil

Gorgo:
But I wonder if it isn't teaching children that reality isn't good enough.

Hell. Reality isn't even good enough for adults, or we wouldn't read or watch any fiction, which usually requires a suspension of reality for at least a little while.


There is a difference between a child coming up with his/her own fantasy, and being told that the universe is a magical place where reindeer fly. Again, this is not the child's imagination at work, this is a lie at work. This is not reading "The Night Before Christmas" to your son, this is telling him that Santa brought the present that you gave him, and it seems that Tim Wise is going beyond that.

Again, I don't think it's terrible, but I wonder if it is manipulative and I wonder why we think it's better to tell them that some magical being brought them presents. Are real people bringing them presents not good enough for them? I'm just wondering.

I know the rent is in arrears
The dog has not been fed in years
It's even worse than it appears
But it's alright-
Jerry Garcia
Robert Hunter



Edited by - Gorgo on 12/28/2009 02:06:07
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H. Humbert
SFN Die Hard

USA
4574 Posts

Posted - 12/28/2009 :  02:07:44   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send H. Humbert a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Kil
Exactly. No reason to lie to him when he comes right out and asks you. He wouldn't be asking if doubt wasn't creeping in. I haven't suggested that lying to the kids is a good thing, exactly. And especially when they ask.
I think this is the perfect attitude. Contrast that with what Tim Wise said, though:
For nearly two years she has expressed her doubts, and for nearly two years we have managed to rebuff them, to maintain the illusion a bit longer, less for her sake no doubt than for ours.
Basically he admits to lying to his children's faces, and the rest of his essay turns into an extended yet wholly unconvincing rationale for doing so.

I love his next sentence too:
This is what parents do, if not about Santa then about something.
Apparently he thinks all parents are liars about something. What other somethings, I wonder? Does he mean religion? Probably. But he also probably also wants to keep it so intentionally vague that no one may defend themselves against the accusation. What would you deny? Everyone has their Santa, whatever that may be. What's yours? If you won't say it just means that yours is so deranged that you are embarassed to share. Oh, and if you don't have children so this innuendo-masquerading-as-an-argument doesn't apply to you? Well, then you don't get to have an opinion. It's something only a parent can understand, and anyway the childless are prone to "sneer at such sentimentality."

I don't really know who this this guy is, but this article did not impress me. And this sloppy summary of atheism really appalled me:
One cannot create that which one cannot at least envision, conceptualize, or dream of, and least of all if they have been told not to dream, not to fantasize, not to believe in things they cannot see. We have not seen God, for instance, and for some that is all that need be known. God cannot, therefore, exist.
What the fuck confused argument is he trying to put into atheists' mouths here? I can't see god, therefore god cannot exist? I'd be offended by his strawman except for the fact that he couldn't even manage to knock it down:
But so too we might recall that we have not seen justice either, real justice, among our human family. Yet we believe, at least I do, that it is possible. We are in real trouble, worse than we might imagine, the minute we conclude otherwise.
For a man so keen on the importance of justice, you'd think offer an argument for it that wasn't so circular. And as Dave pointed out, it is more than possible to foster a child's creativity and imagination without deceit ever having to enter into it. So why would a man who cares about justice want to encourage delusion, which is what happens when someone is taught lies? Some deluded people might even think they are theologically required to follow the morality of an iron age sky god, a situation which has historically been anything but conducive to widespread social justice.

But most hilarious I think is the revelation that his ultimate reason for lying to his children turns out to be so we can all live in a world that can imagine justice! He actually put such an argument in print. We all have to keep lying if we want to live in a just world! Does the man suffer from delusions of grandeur or is he just that stupid? This whole article reads like it stems from some personal conflict. I bet someone he knows briefly scolded him for lying to his children about Santa, and this is his next day pissy (and piss poor) defense of himself.


"A man is his own easiest dupe, for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true." --Demosthenes

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool." --Richard P. Feynman

"Face facts with dignity." --found inside a fortune cookie
Edited by - H. Humbert on 12/28/2009 02:29:03
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Gorgo
SFN Die Hard

USA
5310 Posts

Posted - 12/28/2009 :  08:28:56   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Gorgo a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by H. Humbert

Originally posted by Kil
Exactly. No reason to lie to him when he comes right out and asks you. He wouldn't be asking if doubt wasn't creeping in. I haven't suggested that lying to the kids is a good thing, exactly. And especially when they ask.
I think this is the perfect attitude.


So, you both agree it's not a good idea to lie to them in the first place and tell them there is a Santa Claus?

I know the rent is in arrears
The dog has not been fed in years
It's even worse than it appears
But it's alright-
Jerry Garcia
Robert Hunter



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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13467 Posts

Posted - 12/28/2009 :  10:29:41   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Gorgo

Originally posted by H. Humbert

Originally posted by Kil
Exactly. No reason to lie to him when he comes right out and asks you. He wouldn't be asking if doubt wasn't creeping in. I haven't suggested that lying to the kids is a good thing, exactly. And especially when they ask.
I think this is the perfect attitude.


So, you both agree it's not a good idea to lie to them in the first place and tell them there is a Santa Claus?
I guess I don't know what you mean by "lying to them in the first place." I didn't invent Santa. I didn't sit my kids down and tell them that there is a flying elf who will not come to the house if they are bad, in order to keep them in line. I didn't "use" Santa for my own ends. Santa is iconic and the very secular part of the holiday, and to a child, a fun and magical part. You know--hanging stockings and all of that. Did I play along? Sure I did. And I did so knowing full well that I would be busted, soon enough.

Understand that a young child's brain is not wired like an adults brain. (And in fact, that process isn't complete until the child reaches the age of 25, pretty much, which is why adolescents often seem to make so many poor choices.) Reality and fantasy are very much blurred in a young child and explanations about such things as Santa would no doubt only lead to confusion, until they are sufficiently hard wired enough to understand the difference and ask questions about it. Part of the process is to allow the concept of fantasy and reality to develop naturally.

Once that happens, and it will, I see no reason to push the fantasy down their throats, as the writer of the article you refer to seems to advocate. What I think he suggests could be damaging to a child who is now trying to sort out what is real and what isn't. It's almost as though he doesn't want his children to develop the critical skills that they will need to get along in life.

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

Genetic Literacy Project
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H. Humbert
SFN Die Hard

USA
4574 Posts

Posted - 12/28/2009 :  10:29:42   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send H. Humbert a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Gorgo
So, you both agree it's not a good idea to lie to them in the first place and tell them there is a Santa Claus?
I don't think you should answer dishonestly to direct questions, but I don't consider simply pretending Santa is real to be itself harmful, no. The harm comes from extending the ruse past the point it can serve any useful lesson.


"A man is his own easiest dupe, for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true." --Demosthenes

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool." --Richard P. Feynman

"Face facts with dignity." --found inside a fortune cookie
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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13467 Posts

Posted - 12/28/2009 :  10:32:30   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Ha! It took me three paragraphs to say what Humbert said in two sentences.

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

Genetic Literacy Project
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Gorgo
SFN Die Hard

USA
5310 Posts

Posted - 12/28/2009 :  11:03:34   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Gorgo a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I told my children that Santa brought them presents. My parents told me that Santa brought me presents. Why isn't that a lie, and why is that productive? I'm not saying it should be outlawed here, I'm just continuing the thought to its conclusion. Is it a lie, or isn't it? Why is it not a lie because my brain isn't formed? I understood very early on that TV was different than real life. It wasn't that I believed I was Spiderman, it was that it was fun playing Spiderman.

If we're lying to them, then why do we do it? Do we do it because we're entertained by their gullibility? What other reason could there be? Why isn't "I gave you a present" enough for us? You're saying it's not harmful because they don't understand that they're being lied to, but why isn't trust enough of a goal to keep us from lying to our children?

Wise seems to be saying that it's important for a child's imagination to be lied to. Why? It's not the child's imagination that Santa comes from, that came from people long dead. Seems more like a lack of imagination on our parts.

I know the rent is in arrears
The dog has not been fed in years
It's even worse than it appears
But it's alright-
Jerry Garcia
Robert Hunter



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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26012 Posts

Posted - 12/28/2009 :  11:07:57   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
If you tell a child that you're taking him to get his hair cut, but you really take him to a friends' house for a surprise birthday party, is it lying?

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
Evidently, I rock!
Why not question something for a change?
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