Monday, December 1, 2008

say no to the ho, ho, ho

I don’t have children, but I don’t think that precludes me from pontificating on the plethora of perilous pitfalls into which parents plunge purposefully. I am a taxpayer and a community member, and the way you raise your children affects me -and often offends me. Just because I do not have or want children does not mean I know nothing about them and don’t get to express an opinion on them. You have chosen to have children, and you judge my decision not to have children, so I get to judge the results of your decision, too.

At this time of year, as greed runs rampant and hapless Wal-Mart employees are trampled by grown men and women who should know better, as we demand bigger TVs and more expensive jewelry from our spouses, or cars and vacations from our parents, as we turn Yuletide into a red tide of joyless rushing madness, I wonder what your children are learning from you.

We like to think the Christmas season is one of goodwill and charity, but we all know it’s about want and greed and disappointment. Our worst selves come out just when we should be our nicest, and the next generation sees it all. Why should they be good and patient and kind and forgiving when we’re not? Why should they believe us about anything when we lie to them about so many things?

And why do we feel the need to lie to our children, to scare them into being good? Why don’t we just tell them to be good for goodness sake? Not out of fear of punishment or desire for reward, but simply because this is the right thing to do? There need be no Santa Claus to fear, no Easter Bunny to expect, no Tooth Fairy to bribe. And certainly no God to lord fearsomely over you. Rather, be good simply because you should. Teach your children to do unto others -a timeless rule that need not be Christian-based. You wouldn’t want Johnny to steal your toys or pee on your cat or make fun of your haircut, so don’t do those things to him!

Besides, children who are wretched throughout the year nearly always get rewarded at Christmas and so have no concept of going without as a result of their behavior. How many kids have ever really gotten coal in their stocking?

Tom Flynn has an excellent list of reasons to “just say no” to Santa Claus in his book “The Trouble with Christmas” and I think they express quite well what I’ve been trying to say about this damn myth all these years.

Ten Reasons Why Thoughtful People Should “Just Say No” to Santa

Reason #1: To teach and perpetrate the Santa Claus myth, parents must lie to their children.

Reason #2: The Santa Claus myth exploits characteristic weakness in young children’s thinking, perhaps obstructing their passage to later stages of cognitive development.

Reason #3: To buoy belief, adults stage elaborate deceptions, laying traps for the child’s developing intellect

Reason #4: The myth encourages lazy parenting and promotes unhealthy fear.

Reason #5: The number of characteristics that Santa Claus shares with God and Jesus verges on the blasphemous.

Reason #6: The Santa myth harms children’s cognitive and emotional development and damages family dynamics.

Reason #7: The Santa myth stunts moral development because it encourages children to judge themselves globally, as good or bad persons, rather than to judge positive or negative behavior.

Reason #8: The myth promotes selfish and acquisitive attitudes among children.

Reason #9: Children may not enjoy the Santa Claus drama as much as parental nostalgia suggests.

Reason #10: Contemporary authorities who defend the Santa myth on psychotherapeutic grounds fail to make a convincing case.

-Tom Flynn, The Trouble with Christmas

Before surrendering to another year of madness and mendacity, think for a moment about what your actions are teaching your children (or someone else’s children). If you are greedy and selfish, of course they will be, too. If you put all your emphasis on the gifts instead of good behavior, is it any wonder children grow up unable to manage credit or balance a checkbook? When everything is handed out without condition, when there is no mundane punishment for bad behavior, when the season is about showing off and dressing up and give me give me give me, is it any wonder kids grow up unappreciative and resentful?

Besides, don’t you want your kids to thank you for all the good that is in their lives, instead of some mythical elusive invisible being?

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