Claus and Effect

Go ahead. Lie to your children.

| November / December 2007

  • Santa by Matt Luxich

    image by Matt Luxich

  • Santa by Matt Luxich

If you’re like most parents, you will eventually have to face the truth about Santa Claus. Namely, that he doesn’t exist. Which leads to another revelation of truth: that you are a liar.

The struggle to explain this bitter fact (and the disappointment it seeds) leaves many parents asking themselves if it’s OK to tell untruths about Santa in the first place. Will that big, fat, red lie set a detrimental example for children as they move into young adulthood and develop their own moral framework?

“It’s a slippery question, whether these myths qualify as ‘lies’ in a morally important sense,” Holly Lebowitz Rossi writes in In Character (Spring 2007). But she concludes that the Santa myth might help kids “grow into adults with a more nuanced appreciation for the distinct concepts of faith, belief, and truth.”

As it turns out, it’s not just adults who grapple with the morality of lying. In a recently published study, researchers at the University of California at Berkeley examined teens’ views on honesty and gauged their inclination to lie in some circumstances.

Ninety-one percent of the teens in the study thought lying is “generally unacceptable.” Given a specific situation, however, many could justify lying—especially to their parents—through a process of moral reasoning, reports Nathanael Johnson in California (July/Aug. 2007), the UC Berkeley alumni magazine.

Researcher Elliot Turiel’s conclusion: “Teens see lying to parents as a way to even out an inequitable relationship, righting perceived injustices stemming from that power imbalance,” writes Johnson.