Lying About Santa Claus Could Undermine Kids' Trust In Their Parents, Say Psychologists


Tom Hale


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist

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Bah, humbug! A new study is warning parents that lying to kids about the existence of Santa could do the parent-child relationship some harm. Of course, that isn’t to say he doesn’t exist...

In the journal Lancet Psychiatry, psychologist Christopher Boyle and mental health researcher Kathy McKay argue that lying to children about Santa Claus could severely undermine their sense of trust and bring them “abject disappointment” when they realize life isn’t as magical as it was said to be.


"The morality of making children believe in such myths has to be questioned. 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,” Professor Boyle, of the University of Exeter, said in a statement.

"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," he added.

As for the parents, they believe that they are selfishly motivated to lie in an attempt for them to relive the magic and joy of childhood.

“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,” added Dr McKay, of the University of New England in Australia.


The researchers do however say the odd white lie might not necessarily be a negative thing. In the study, they note “For example, an adult comforting a child and telling them that their recently deceased pet will go to a special place (animal heaven) is arguably nicer than telling graphic truths about its imminent re-entry into the carbon cycle.”

But hey, let’s not put too much of a downer on Christmas. After all, at least nowadays, the festive period is perhaps more about the universal qualities of family, friends, compassion, and thanksgiving, than it is about magical men. The essay also says that believing in Santa Claus could also be seen as a reflection of a child's ability to imagine and create, something we lose as we grow older.

The tongue-in-cheek conclusion additionally suggests we shouldn't take the essay too seriously: "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 in a galaxy far far away?"


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