Almost all of us, at one point or another, were convinced by our parents that a jolly old man with a white beard would bring us presents on Christmas. We would get so excited; set up a tree, milk and cookies, decorate our houses, and never once did we doubt the validity of a man traveling the entire world in one night on his sleigh, carried by reindeer. Now that we’re older, we realize that Santa Clause was all a lie told to us by our parents, but haven’t we always been taught that lying is bad? If you think about it, we are deceived for years and years by carefully thought out plans to hide presents, making sure that we’re sleeping when they are put under the tree, etc. Can this deception impact children negatively while their brains are still developing? The null hypothesis is that lying about Santa Clause has no effect on children and the alternative is that lying about Santa psychologically damages kids.
According to an observational study done by Jacqueline D. Woolley and Maliki Ghossainy, parents and media distorting the truth about things like Santa Clause affects a child’s ability to tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not in the actual world. When they see imagines and videos of something that is not real, like Santa, often times there is skepticism, but because children doubt the validity of these pictures and images, they also begin to be genuinely skeptical of the reality status of information they encounter in the media. For example, when a group of kids we’re shown the documentary, March of the Penguins, a few children were convinced that the movie was made through special effects and animation. This happens because they don’t know what’s real and what’s not on television anymore.
In addition to this, you can also lose your child’s trust and make them suspicious of anything else that authority figure says in the future. In an MIT study, a teacher demonstrated only one function in a three-function toy, and then gave the toy to the children to play with. When the children were asked how effective the teachers instructions were, the kids who knew that it was a three-function toy rated the teacher much lower than the kids who thought that it only had one function, since they knew that the teacher had omitted information. This caused them to be much more suspicious of the teacher.
Possibly the worst effect of lying to children about Santa Clause was found out about in this article, which was that lied to children are much more likely to cheat and lie as well. When parents maintain that honesty is an important value, but lie to their children anyway, it gives the child a sense of comfort about that the fact that lying is okay. They learn from this, and end up doing it themselves.
Something that we might have to worry about is the Texas sharpshooter problem. Santa Clause is a legendary figure of Western culture that millions of children across the U.S. and the world believe in, and the main purpose of parents omitting the truth about him is to make their children happy. If, for over ten years, a child gets happiness from receiving presents once a year, can that really be such a negative thing?
Because of the Texas sharpshooter problem, we cannot accept or reject the null hypothesis. It is an interesting question to keep thinking about, though. Is a little white lie really hurting children more than it is bringing them joy?