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Government assisted myth perpetuation
December 25, 2005 10:38 AM   Subscribe

Of course santa is real, even NORAD tracks him. With large corporate sponsors and a long list of b-class celebrities (except for Mickey Rooney), how could any child doubt that santa exists. How can mass societal lies be any good for children? Does it teach them that everyone lies and is it the reason that most adults do?
posted by Mr_Zero (142 comments total)

 
What is your point Mr_Zero? You want a society where there are no legends and tall tales? There has never been a society without them.
posted by Dean Keaton at 10:44 AM on December 25, 2005


I barf eggnog upon both of you.
posted by bardic at 10:46 AM on December 25, 2005


There has never been a society without them.

Maybe that's the problem.
posted by Mr_Zero at 10:56 AM on December 25, 2005


Has anyone ever grown up and been resentful to their parents for allowing them to believe in Santa? What's wrong with a little bit of holiday fun?

Jeez! Merry Christmas!
posted by travosaurus at 11:00 AM on December 25, 2005


Oh give me a fucking break.

What's the deal with all the grinchy posts lately anyway? Did all of you posting these have horrible disturbing childhoods and can't be bothered to let kids be kids, and have a fun christmas?

Sheesh.
posted by AaronRaphael at 11:00 AM on December 25, 2005


Did all of you posting these have horrible disturbing childhoods and can't be bothered to let kids be kids, and have a fun christmas?

The point is, that opening presents on Christmas morning would have been just as fun for me if everyone in my world was not lying to me, and going to elaborate lengths to do so. So why do it?
posted by Mr_Zero at 11:05 AM on December 25, 2005


Because children are not ready for more complex truths at a certain stage in their development. Kids are not little adults. They think and reason differently from adults.
posted by clockworkjoe at 11:08 AM on December 25, 2005


I have some news for you Mr_Zero: Legends aren't lies but something people do because it is what their parents, family and friends do.
posted by Dean Keaton at 11:08 AM on December 25, 2005


Read once where the concept of Santa was an important milestone in child development, where the child understood the concept of a secret.
posted by frogan at 11:09 AM on December 25, 2005


I think this is just NORAD looking for a more innocuous image than the primary authentication centre for a system (the SIOP, or Single Integrated Operational Plan) that controls 4500 nuclear weapons.

As someone who has stood inside the command room at NORAD, perhaps I have some authority to pronounce upon the matter.
posted by sindark at 11:11 AM on December 25, 2005


You want a society where there are no legends and tall tales?

You know, Santa doesn't fall into the same category as legends and tall tales in that people know that Santa isn't real when they tell their kids about them. The legend of Odysseus, for example, isn't a conscious fraud that everyone perpetrates. No one tries to convince children that a certain grape vine in their town is the grape vine that the fox tried to eat from in Aesop's Fables. The lengths parents go to convince their kids that Santa is an actual man when the parents themselves know it isn't true borders on the creepy. I've no problem with parents who believe that there's a Santa Claus telling their kids that Santa is real.

Legends aren't lies but something people do because it is what their parents, family and friends do.

No, those are "rituals." I could see the whole Santa Claus thing as a "ritual" or "rite of passage" that parents put their children through. But I prefer to put it in the "Aesop's Fables" category.

And Merry Christmas!
posted by deanc at 11:13 AM on December 25, 2005


Legends aren't lies but something people do because it is what their parents, family and friends do.

Just because a lot of people do something does not make it a non-lie. Even if those people are close to you.
posted by Mr_Zero at 11:15 AM on December 25, 2005


I always thought that the Santa Claus Mythos was a method of showing children that adults would lie to them for money.

And further, that children needed to outgrow the feel-good stories about supernatural beings who are said to look after them
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 11:16 AM on December 25, 2005


The point is, that opening presents on Christmas morning would have been just as fun for me if everyone in my world was not lying to me, and going to elaborate lengths to do so.

Someone needs therapy.

And Merry Christmas Mr. Zero!
posted by justgary at 11:16 AM on December 25, 2005


Read once where the concept of Santa was an important milestone in child development, where the child understood the concept of a secret.

'There are five fingers there. Do you see five fingers?'

'Yes.'
posted by Mr_Zero at 11:20 AM on December 25, 2005


justgary

Are you suggesting that therapy will help me understand why it is good to lie to children and how my childhood would have been worse if everyone did not lie to me?

Merry Christmas!
posted by Mr_Zero at 11:27 AM on December 25, 2005


sindark: does it look anything like War Games?
posted by bonaldi at 11:30 AM on December 25, 2005


Are you still a child? Because you're acting like quite the baby.
posted by ticopelp at 11:32 AM on December 25, 2005


Belief in Santa is a place you can visit in memory, like that beach in Hawaii all those years ago.

I hope everyone can go there today, or to wherever they were happiest.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:33 AM on December 25, 2005


Mr_Zero, would you have been a happier child if your parents had sat you down and told you that Santa Claus doesn't exist and that every story you have been read is simple fiction and that there simply is no magic in this world nor any room for flights of fancy?

For what it's worth, Santa never visited my house. He was too busy. Elves did, though. And unlike Mr_Zero I don't harbour deep-set bitterness towards my parents because of this elaborate web of deceit.
posted by slimepuppy at 11:36 AM on December 25, 2005


Mr_Zero, not to become the big advocate of the Santa-thing, but let me try to explain the appeal to you-- this isn't about parents consciously wanting to "lie" to their children, even though it seems that way. It's that parents like to watch children get excited and believe in things like magic. The parents remember when they believed that things like Santa could be real, and they miss that feeling. They feel obligated to give their children the opportunity to have that feeling, as well.
posted by deanc at 11:36 AM on December 25, 2005


Well I got a present from Santa. I'm not sure what happened in the Mr_Zero house this year but it must have been pretty bad if he didn't even get any solid chunks of non-renewable carbon chains in midnight black.
posted by Mitheral at 11:42 AM on December 25, 2005


Are you suggesting that therapy will help me understand why it is good to lie to children and how my childhood would have been worse if everyone did not lie to me?

I'm suggesting you need help to get beyond what was obviously a traumatic, horrifying experience as a child. Or you could start a site to ban santa. Either one would be a positive move for you.

And thanks for the christmas cheer! Santa was very, very good to me this year. =)
posted by justgary at 11:45 AM on December 25, 2005


would you have been a happier child if your parents had sat you down and told you that Santa Claus doesn't exist

If they told me that everyone elses parents and NORAD were lying to them, I think I would have thought that was neat that my parents were honest with me. Maybe not at first, but I am certain that when I got to the age when everyone realizes it is a myth, I would have really felt good that my parents were honest with me from the start.

I doubt that my ability to to fantisize or imagine the unreal would have been affected much by whether or not I believed in Santa.

I don't harbour deep-set bitterness towards my parents because of this elaborate web of deceit.

I don't harbour any bitterness towards my parents for it. I looked forward to Santa as much as the next kid. However in hindsite I just don't think it ends up being a overall positive.
posted by Mr_Zero at 11:49 AM on December 25, 2005


Well, I've always felt kind of funny about the whole Santa thing as well. I definitely understand deanc's point of view that parents are happy to see their children excited. I have vague memories of believing in Santa Claus, but I also seem to recall being just as excited about Christmas even after finding out Santa was just a lie. I don't really ever remember feeling betrayed or lied to by my parents. I think he does count as a 'lie', however.

I don't have kids, but if I did, I would probably tend not to tell them lies about Santa Claus, but it would be very hard because kids would inevitably hear from friends and other family members about Santa. If I told them Santa was not real, they would go around telling other little children and their parents would then shun my children! Talk about societal pressure!

Even if you don't want to lie to your children about Santa, everyone around you will, or smirk at you for being a party-pooper. You don't have much choice to conform, or to resist quietly...
posted by PigAlien at 11:56 AM on December 25, 2005


everyone believes what they wish to
posted by beachgrrlmusic at 12:00 PM on December 25, 2005


... thus the brainwashing begins ...
posted by mischief at 12:02 PM on December 25, 2005


If lies about Santa are what you're fretting about right now, you've probably had a pretty decent 2005.
posted by Cyrano at 12:08 PM on December 25, 2005


Well, would it help to think of Santa Clause as 'art' rather than 'science'? Same as any movie, song, TV show, photograph, novel, painting, joke, or dream for the future. These things are all 'lies' at a literal level as well: flickering images, semi-random sound waves, ink marks on paper, daubs of paint, mere words, someone elses made up ideas. All invitations to... imagine.
posted by scheptech at 12:09 PM on December 25, 2005


Is there any greater joy than lying to children? Isn't that your job as an uncle or cousin?

Points to nose: ear... ear...

A cow says baaaaa..... A cow says baaaaa.....
posted by ChasFile at 12:19 PM on December 25, 2005


@bonaldi

Not really, unfortunately.
posted by sindark at 12:25 PM on December 25, 2005


Cyrano

You are correct, 2005 rocked.
posted by Mr_Zero at 12:30 PM on December 25, 2005


Because children are not ready for more complex truths at a certain stage in their development. Kids are not little adults. They think and reason differently from adults.

Speaking of myths that people tell themselves. I remember my childhood (and my perspective on it) much better than most other people seem to, and I don't remember any tremendous difficulty in grappling with the idea that my parents weren't always honest, or that some people didn't believe in magic, or that God might be dead. And I was a pretty privileged kid. A lot of kids have to deal with much more unpleasant truths than Santa's non-existence. No doubt those truths are often emotionally painful, and it's understandable to want to protect a child from having to confront them while they're in their most impressionable stages. But that's not the same thing as saying that they're 'not ready for more complex truths.' Give me a break.
posted by bingo at 12:30 PM on December 25, 2005


Maybe Mr. Zero is mildly autistic - I've heard autistic people have trouble with all sorts of lies, even fiction.

Personally, I believe that some lies have a good purpose, such as social lubrication. Belief in Santa allows a kid to have a little magic in their life, and to light up on X-mas morning.

I think it is also useful in introducing the concept that not everything is as popular opinion would lead you to believe, and that people don't always tell the truth.

I'd hate to meet (or be) an adult who never encountered a lie growing up. They'd either be completely naive, or they'd be the annoying type who tells you "well, it's not really the pants that make you look fat - you just are fat."
posted by bashos_frog at 12:31 PM on December 25, 2005


It always seemed like the kids who were always told santa was a lie grew up humorless. I firmly intend, if I have children, to let my kids believe in Santa. I also intend to be honest with them.

There's nothing malicious intended by telling kids that Santa is real. Or as Mulder would say "I want to believe."
posted by drezdn at 12:32 PM on December 25, 2005


That, sindark, is worse than hearing that there is no santa. :(
posted by bonaldi at 12:32 PM on December 25, 2005


What? Are we seriously doing this again? You guys have fun, I'm going to watch A Christmas Carol again and eat some holiday cookies. Jerks.
posted by chrominance at 12:38 PM on December 25, 2005


I've thought a little about this, and while I'm in favor of wonder more than perhaps the average joe, I think I agree with Mr_Zero on this one.

I've never been one much for rites of passage. Telling a child that there's a Santa, and watching as they believe it, is an intrinsically belittling act. Sounds harmless at first, sure, but they're symptomatic, and supportive, of certain attitudes that many parents have concerning their kids.

If the kid really *does* believe in Santa (I never *quite* believed, I think -- it didn't jive with what my developing mind had pieced together about the world, as I suspect it doesn't with most kids, especially as popular representations of Santa Claus become more idealized and abstract), then there is that jarring recognition that you've been lied to, systematically, once you find out. Everything you learn at that age has the potential to become the foundation for something, so even spurious, "harmless" false knowledge at that point can ultimately have a strong negative effect.

Back to my personal experience, I remember once watching the 11 o'clock news with my mom late one Christmas Eve night when I was a kid during that precarious age when belief in Santa was waning, and I remember the weatherman had put a graphic of Santa over the radar map to show his progress.

I remember thinking along the lines of: "There's an OUTLINE of Santa there on the map? He must be huge!"
posted by JHarris at 12:39 PM on December 25, 2005


Maybe that's the problem.

there's a problem?
posted by quonsar at 12:51 PM on December 25, 2005


Telling a child that there's a Santa, and watching as they believe it, is an intrinsically belittling act.

No it's not. That's your perception of it.

then there is that jarring recognition that you've been lied to, systematically, once you find out.

Again, you say that like it's fact. For many kids there isn't one moment when their santa world crashes around them. It's a slow realization.

Honestly, if being lied to about santa is your most traumatic event as a child, you're doing pretty well. And if you really think it's a bad thing, just sit your three year old down and explain it's all a lie. Problem solved.
posted by justgary at 12:53 PM on December 25, 2005


Isn't it just a reinactment of the formation of religion?
posted by TwelveTwo at 12:58 PM on December 25, 2005


The "christmas" problem is not Santa dear Mr. Scrudge, eh I mean Mr_Zero, the problem with christmas is that is has become a huge commercial holiday. I have nothing against buying presents, hell, I love receiving them, yet I find a bit obscene the way money is spent over Xmas.... you buy things people do not want or need because you HAVE to give them a present.... worse of all kids open toy after toy and only to leave them behind and pay no attention to them until the day you suggest giving them away to a charity..... This is what ruins a child not allowing them to believe in a benevolent old man whose purpose in life is making kids happy.
posted by libelula at 1:06 PM on December 25, 2005


Mr_Zero, please read the metafilter posting guidlines.

Make sure you're linking to something on the web. If you're posting a generalized question to the audience, or posting a comment as a main thread, either find an appropriate mailing list, or use MetaTalk.

Everyone already knows about norad tracking santa. /yawn


And lastly, don't troll (quick definition: posting purposely inflammatory things for the sole purpose of baiting others to argue the points until blue in the face - basically people do this for kicks, to destroy conversations and communites, for the hell of it).


If you wanted to talk about the effects of myths on children you could have done some research and put some time into the post.
posted by bigmusic at 1:12 PM on December 25, 2005


Will you people get the stick out of your arse and give Mr_Zero a break?

All societies have their sacred myths, it seems.
Mr_Zero has taken the trouble to point to one of ours, and for his trouble it has been suggested that he harbours deep-set resentment to his parents, is autistic and is in need of therapy.

This sort of ostracism is the result of challenging commonly held beliefs, and I imagine fear of this sort of public shaming is a factor in many parents decision to perpetuate the santa myth.

The difference between the resentment shown towards Mr_Zero and the burning of heretics in the middle ages is one of degree, not principle.

But hey, that's the spirit of christmas.
posted by spazzm at 1:15 PM on December 25, 2005


Parents were a little dyslexic. Always got confused and told me Satan was coming in the night. Scared shitless. Could have done without that. Santa though? That cat is A-OK... LOL. WTF? Merry Christmas Everyone!! =)
posted by idontlikewords at 1:17 PM on December 25, 2005


I think you need to read Oscar Wilde's The Decay of Lying.
posted by juiceCake at 1:18 PM on December 25, 2005


I see a glimmering of an interesting discussion poking out form behind all the posts piling onto Mr_Zero. C'mon, Mefi, get past the initial rush of blood and think about the question.

How about this: how do different children "recover" once they've learned it's a lie? Do they all realize the value of the myth, or do some get stuck with resentment towards their parents or adults in general? [Please consider filtering out the snarky comments before posting.]
posted by intermod at 1:19 PM on December 25, 2005


mr scrudge?

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

jeebus but the literacy level around here has taken a nosedive this past year. this place is scrude. BWAHAHAHAHAHA!
posted by quonsar at 1:22 PM on December 25, 2005


Lies?

LOL

Yeah, and we should make all fiction writing illegal as soon as possible.

What are we teaching our children? That it's okay to lie if your writing a stinkin BOOK?

And lock those Hollywood liers up TODAY!

Doctor Suess? Dig up his grave and give that lier the proper trashing he deserves.
posted by HTuttle at 1:38 PM on December 25, 2005


*you're
(and any other slips)
posted by HTuttle at 1:39 PM on December 25, 2005


When I have children, I will tell them the story of Santa when they're young, and tell them that it's just a fun story like in a picturebook, and that it's nice to pretend. When they get slightly older, I'll tell them about St Nicholas and Sinterklaas and the Coca-Cola Company. The truth is fun, and so is playing make-believe, but fooling people is usually lame.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Awesome at 1:41 PM on December 25, 2005 [1 favorite]


PotEoA, you rock. Bonus points for including the Sinterklaas link, of course. But then I'm Dutch.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 1:43 PM on December 25, 2005


I sympathize with Mr_Zero's perspective while recognizing that myths are inherently human and unavoidable. However, I think the Santa myth has mutated into something other than what was originally intended and is now mostly a commercial vehicle designed to get parents to buy more stuff.

To that end, re-inforcing the Santa myth is what a good American should do because it demands commercial consumption of one sort or another.

Happy Jesus Day.
posted by ryanhealy at 1:43 PM on December 25, 2005


On a related note: the fundamental reason that parents still tell their kids about Santa, is that a guy who knows if you've been bad or good and rewards or punishes them accordingly can keep the kids well behaved even when your back is turned. This is precicely the same reason why parents tell their kids about an omniscient God.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Awesome at 1:54 PM on December 25, 2005


Htuttle: Lies?

If you can not make the distinction between a Dr Suess book and a society as a whole, telling a child something that is untrue there is no point in discussing this with you. If a child asks an adult if the Cat in the Hat is real I doubt any of them would say yes. Of course it is a work of fiction. No one ever tells them it is real.

I know parents that have their kids write letters to Santa which they answer. They use different wrapping paper for the Santa presents. They have a friend at work make the to and from cards so the writing is not familiar. They leave out milk and cookies which they half devour so there is additional evidence of Santas visit in the morning. The lengths they go to, to trick their kids into believing is crazy.
posted by Mr_Zero at 1:56 PM on December 25, 2005


Merry Christmas everyone!
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Awesome at 1:59 PM on December 25, 2005


Welcome to the world of Mr_Zero, where every glint and sparkle of human imagination is a bald faced lie. Novels? Lies. All paintings other than strictly realistic representations? Lies.

Lovely. Kill yourself, you clearly won't be missing much.
posted by kavasa at 2:04 PM on December 25, 2005


Yes.. santa... truth...

I've been thinking recently about how to be totally honest with my kids without warping them forever. I think santa will be relatively easy to explain. The potential show stopper I think is death.

I was in line at wendys and a little kid (probably 3-6) asked his dad what would happen if someone fell off of a building. The dad was avoiding the likely outcome, saying that the person would get hurt. The kid seemed to be coming to a questioning of "what would happen if someone got really, really, really hurt"... what then? Dad offered that the person would have to go to the hospital.

Now, granted, this wasn't my kid (and I didn't open my mouth). But if I had been in his shoes, I like to think I would have asked the kid, "What do you think would happen?" If the kid is beginning to understand that life can/does end, either by age or injury, it seems only responsible to deal with them honestly, since they are already beginning to know, and you can't keep them innocent/ignorant forever.

Of course I would still reassure them that nothing's going to happen to me or to them for a long, long time (Hey, I don't know I'm going to die soon) and try to (at some point) cajole them into seeing impermanence as something that can be beautiful, and not just frightening. After all, if no one ever died, the world would fill up so you couldn't move an inch, or else no new people would be born and so no one new would ever get a chance to be alive. Like taking turns in a game, we each get our turn, and at some point, it's someone else's.

Most of you probably expect that by that point I'd have a crying, dissillusioned five year old on my hands, and maybe you're right. But I wonder what subtle damage is done by the mismatch between the ultimate trust of a child in their parents, and the disconnect between what they eventually learn, and what their parents paper it over with.

<soapbox>

Merry giftmas.
posted by modernerd at 2:05 PM on December 25, 2005


bigmusic Thanks for the links. I will try to be a better poster in the future. No sarcasm intended. However, you need to know I was not trolling with the post. It's something as a parent I have had to wrestle with and thought it was worthy of discussion.

I hope you have a happy new year!
posted by Mr_Zero at 2:08 PM on December 25, 2005


kavasa, isn't there a difference between being told an untruth under the guise of facticity, and willingly suspending one's disbelief?
posted by modernerd at 2:11 PM on December 25, 2005


Part of the problem in this discussion is that people are projecting their assumptions and experiences around Santa onto others. You can play Santa to your kids in a bad way, you can do it in a good way. The issue has nothing to do with whether Santa Claus is real or not. The issue is whether people raise their kids to apply a scientific or artistic test to reality. I'd argue that both are acceptable, and that one is not better than other. What's important is that the Santa experience is framed in a positive way. I prefer to approach reality with a bit of an artistic license ... but others may differ in their approach. To each their own.
posted by forforf at 2:19 PM on December 25, 2005


Yes, there's a difference, but it's immaterial and irrelevant. The important part is the similarity.
posted by kavasa at 2:21 PM on December 25, 2005


I worry that a five-year-old who is so misled as to think Santa is real or death is not real will be unprepared for rational thought later in life.
posted by thirteenkiller at 2:25 PM on December 25, 2005


Is this for real? Is anything in this cockgobbling thread real? People are upset about Santa? People are upset that people are upset about Santa? The only reason is I want to have kids some day is so I can lie to them and make them think I invented lots of stuff. Is that so wrong? I call it effective parenting.

/puts down wine, switching to mineral water for everyone's safety.
posted by bardic at 2:26 PM on December 25, 2005


*only reason [] I want*
posted by bardic at 2:27 PM on December 25, 2005


Welcome to the world of Mr_Zero, where every glint and sparkle of human imagination is a bald faced lie. Novels? Lies. All paintings other than strictly realistic representations? Lies.
Lovely. Kill yourself, you clearly won't be missing much.


An orchestrated effort to trick children into believing in Santa has nothing to do with novels, art or having an imagination. I enjoy reading, art (especially Escher and Dali) and dare I say, have a good as imagination as the next person. Right now I am imagining you fucking yourself.
posted by Mr_Zero at 2:36 PM on December 25, 2005


So kavasa, are you saying that in your opinion, a person who eschews presenting fantasy as reality to their children, doesn't deserve to enjoy fiction, on the grounds that there is a rhetorical similarity between suspended disbelief and incorrect belief?

The distinction between willing choice and having your trust taken advantage of hardly seems immaterial to me. If you think it's irrelevant I'd be interested in why.

I'm biting my tongue to keep from putting words in your mouth here. Children aren't equipped to deal with every harsh reality in the world. But is it actually necessary to raise a child with beliefs they will eventually grow out of (barring some kind of mental deficiency)?
posted by modernerd at 2:36 PM on December 25, 2005


Bardic: Apparently some people think children should be inundated with nihilistic dogma (Santa does not exist, you will die and maybe die soon) before they are even old enough to got to Hot Topic and buy goth clothes and black nail polish.
posted by longsleeves at 2:38 PM on December 25, 2005


I gotta go with Mr_Zero on this one. I think perpetrating elaborate lies on children is a bad idea. I agree with Protocols that Santa is a fine little picturebook story.

And for those who equate an elaborate lie with novels, fantasy, legends and tall tales -- well, the whole point is that one knows they are fiction.
posted by JackFlash at 2:39 PM on December 25, 2005


I'm just fascinated that:

1) People think you have to actively lie to kids about Santa Claus. You don't. Kids pick it up in the greater world, and then all you have to do is stay out of the way of their process of reasoning and discovery.

2) Apparently some people's parents were vindictive as hell about this. That's the only explanation I can think of at this point -- what, did your family laugh at you when you figured it out? If so, that sucked and was mean. But it wasn't mean to let you have fun at Christmas with the myth of Santa. Did they put coal in your stocking? That sucked, too. But both of those situations are where adults purposely involved themselves in the kids' figuring out that Santa was not altogether real. Just stay the hell out of it, and help them figure things out in a non-judgemental way. I've seen it a million times on MeFi already this year. Little Johnny says, "Dad, I've heard Santa Claus isn't real."
"Oh, have you? Well, what do you think?"
"Well, [insert reasoning. Chimney narrow, world big, etc]."
"That's always bothered me, too. But I think we shouldn't ruin it for everyone else."

How hard is that? Jeeze. And I don't even have kids. I just remember being treated in a respectful manner by my parents . . .who allowed me to beleive in Santa Claus until I didn't anymore.
posted by Medieval Maven at 2:47 PM on December 25, 2005 [1 favorite]


bardic: lol. yeah, this is not "getting riled up" worthy :)

longsleeves, you have quite a slant going. I said that when (I loves me my italics), when a child is already maturing to an understanding of the finiteness or potential finiteness of life, I would (delicately) draw out from them what they thought - what they already understood - instead of trying to stuff the genie back in the bottle.

And I specifically said that I would reassure them that death was not imminent for them or me.

mheh.

My father told me that he would never lie to me. But in retrospect I am aware that he did. When (presuming I reproduce) I say to my child(ren) that I would never lie to them, it is important to me (and maybe to them too) that that statement itself is not false.

Now, if I had a 2 year old ask me what "death" meant, I would not feel a need to load the kid up with "nihilistic dogma" (aka reality) before (s)he was ready for it. I might omit the stark truth, but I would not include a falsehood in its place. However, if the kid was particularly precocious, and I sensed that his/her interest was based on some understanding of the limitations of life (or if something traumatic happened like the kids mother died, or I was dying, or best friend died, etc etc) then I would break the truth as gently and metaphorically as possible, and depending on age, maybe even equate it with sleep minus dreaming. It all depends on the child and the situation.

No need to drag a toddler out to the graveyard and say "Kid, someday you're going to be buried in a box, and you ain't never getting out. MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!" Let's not be absurd please, longsleeves, in our interpretations of each others' comments.
posted by modernerd at 3:02 PM on December 25, 2005


Whoah, whoah, whoah... what about the fun of it once you figured out the whole thing? I really liked that part of the ritual. It's like a rite of passage, where you get to be in the Adult Club because you know the real deal... then you get to try to help out in making sure your little sister doesn't find out about it all.
posted by cusack at 3:04 PM on December 25, 2005


But is it actually necessary to raise a child with beliefs they will eventually grow out of?

Yep, it is. Because if I didn't get my child to believe the spoon was an airplane, he would have never eaten his peas.

And just remember, Don't fuck with Mr. Zero.
posted by sexymofo at 3:17 PM on December 25, 2005


Medieval Maven I think you hit the nail on the head with #2. Perfect!
Just stay the hell out of it, and help them figure things out in a non-judgemental way. I've seen it a million times on MeFi already this year. Little Johnny says, "Dad, I've heard Santa Claus isn't real."
"Oh, have you? Well, what do you think?"
"Well, [insert reasoning. Chimney narrow, world big, etc]."
"That's always bothered me, too. But I think we shouldn't ruin it for everyone else."
Let the kid's development happen. There's no need to force them into it too soon, and there's no way to hold it back when it comes. And letting them pick up the fairy tale from society gives the benefit cusack mentioned, plus lets them apply a reasoning filter to their global level knowledge, plus you as the parent get to keep your conscience clean. Bonus!
posted by modernerd at 3:17 PM on December 25, 2005


And for those who equate an elaborate lie with novels, fantasy, legends and tall tales -- well, the whole point is that one knows they are fiction.

Fictional novels on the surface, like all art forms, are not reality. However their purpose, usefulness, and attraction derives from their ability to communicate reality. People read stories because they tell them something they believe or recognize in the world around them, specifically in themselves and the people around them. In other words such works aren't really taken to be fiction at all. Imaginary characters are used to illustrate real truths about the human condition, imaginary mountains may be painted to say something about real mountains, etc.

So I dunno, similarly to art or culture in general, I don't think a complete understanding of the function or usefulness of a cultural phenom such as Santa Clause can be achieved by characterizing it as a simple truth/lie issue. So as related to child-rearing, perhaps this kind of thing bears more careful thought on the part of parents than may first appear?
posted by scheptech at 3:22 PM on December 25, 2005


You guys are so weird.

Huge portions of the world don't know or care about Santa. I for one didn't. We developed ok.. Saying that Santa Claus is an important part of child development one way or other is just delusion. Mr_Zero, deep breaths please.
posted by Firas at 4:10 PM on December 25, 2005


I worry that a five-year-old who is so misled as to think Santa is real or death is not real will be unprepared for rational thought later in life.
posted by thirteenkiller at 5:25 PM EST on December 25 [!]


WTF?
posted by Firas at 4:12 PM on December 25, 2005




billy wants to know if mr zero's been naughty this year
posted by pyramid termite at 4:16 PM on December 25, 2005


Also, lies are good things. A society without lies is an anti-social culture.

"How do I look?"
"Horrid, as usual."

"What can I do for you?"
"You can stop being an asshole..."
posted by Firas at 4:20 PM on December 25, 2005


Those are subjective questions.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Awesome at 4:25 PM on December 25, 2005


WTF?
posted by Firas at 7:12 PM EST on December 25 [!]


...wut?
posted by thirteenkiller at 4:27 PM on December 25, 2005


Did I miss something? As far back as I can remember, I knew there was no Santa Claus... it didn't detract from the whole Christmas experience. I'm guessing this revelation was a jarring one for other people?

I didn't see it as some deceptive machination on the part of my parents, it was just fun.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 4:34 PM on December 25, 2005


Little children are better at intuitive reads on adults than adults want to know. When I was maybe four years old I wandered into my parent’s bedroom. I found a rubber on the night stand and knew that it was somehow different from anything I had ever seen before. When I asked my Dad what it was he said that it was for corns and proceeded to roll it onto his big toe.

I filed that away under the heading of “adults do big things that kids can’t figure out”. And, near as I can recall, the Santa thing was never very far from that.

Most of all, I remember the exultation of the Eureka moment when my cousin and I determined, once and for all, that there was no Santa Claus. That was the best thing about Santa Claus.
posted by Huplescat at 4:38 PM on December 25, 2005


Maybe I need to put forth what I'm trying to prove before just pointing out examples. I was responding to the text in the FPP that said, 'How can mass societal lies be any good for children? Does it teach them that everyone lies and is it the reason that most adults do?'

My point is: (a) delusion is human nature, we want to believe the miracle cure and the herald.

Indeed, what is hope and expectation but minor delusion? (We can produce an HIV vaccine, we can end starvation, we can assert universal autonomy of the individual independent from the state—aren't these small-scale delusions?) And what is the belief that there is a monster under your bed, that the sceance is connecting to your relatives, but such delusion writ large? One may say that the very act of rationality (in the sense that economists and social scientists talk of rationality—balancing the positives and negatives and choosing the path with best returns) is dependent on hope (doing x has a high chance of procuring y, therefore I can procure y) and hence depends, to a point, on delusion.

Point (b) is that lies are not something to be avoided. Especially in the context of human relations, they aid interactions. "Jenny and I went to dinner" can smooth over many things than "Jenny and I fucked each others brains out" can't. You're still lying to Jenny's dad, and it's hardly a bad thing to do, especially if her dad is a martinet.

There's a sort of 'devolution fetishism' embodied in the notion that 'if we just stripped Santa and societal lies away, people would stop acting weird'. It's a romanticization of the state of nature, and it dies hard. "Only if we remove the artificial constructs we've built, we'll be better off". My point is that neither is this likely to occur (ie. abstraction is unavoidable in basic thought), nor if it did occur would it produce a better society than one with abstractions, delusions, beliefs, laws and myths.
posted by Firas at 4:46 PM on December 25, 2005


a quick synopsis of the thread so far. the original question posed was: Does it teach them that everyone lies and is it the reason that most adults do?

Well I got a present from Santa. I'm not sure what happened in the Mr_Zero house this year..

clearly not much of an attempt to disguise the unwarranted mockery and derision in that response.

And thanks for the christmas cheer! Santa was very, very good to me this year. =)

and you thought it was bill o'rielly that was batshit insane...

billy wants to know if mr zero's been naughty this year

if that didn't work you could always try the label your detractors as mental approach:

you need help to get beyond what was obviously a traumatic, horrifying experience as a child.

i think it's only fair to point out that probably 95% or more of the above posters have an unelected drunk in position as their supreme commander in chief. the same probably can't figure out whether or not they're being dibbled at the polling booth. not much point then asking questions about whether it's a good thing to lie to kids for purely social reasons.
posted by rodney stewart at 5:23 PM on December 25, 2005


Is there any greater joy than lying to children?

When my son was really small, and he'd get pissed off because we were walking a long way, I'd tell him that if he really, really wanted to badly enough, we could fly home just like Superman. All we had to do was put our arms together in front of our heads and start running.

We never managed to get off the ground, but I'm sure he doesn't harbour any deep seated resentment at the deception. I'm pretty sure he feels as I do about such things, which is that learning that real magic is possible through one's dreams and imagination is a real gift and the discovery that the world can be a tawdry place and sometimes people lie to you to make everyone's lives a little easier and more pleasant comes only too soon.

A practical child, I personally gave up believing in the Santa myth almost immediately I was old enough to reason, but like most children, I played along with the fiction because it was the stuff of family myths and rituals, and they are often part of a much bigger and more important truth than some trivial, pettyfogging pedantry.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:24 PM on December 25, 2005


shrugs

I didn't mind the Santa muth as a kid, and, as an adult, I saw it as emblematic of the whole karmic justice system we try to instill - Be good, get rewarded. Be bad, get punished.

shrugs again
posted by Samizdata at 5:28 PM on December 25, 2005


Is this part of the War on Christmas? On whose side?
posted by dhartung at 5:34 PM on December 25, 2005


Telling a child that there's a Santa, and watching as they believe it, is an intrinsically belittling act.

You were a child, how much more belittled could you get?
posted by jonmc at 5:47 PM on December 25, 2005


Children understand the subtle difference between lies and make-believe a lot better than adults do. I wonder why we forget this when we grow up? Maybe because we go through childhood playing make-believe, and having adults tell us to stop fibbing.
When I was a kid, I sometimes worked as sheriff of a frontier town. When I wasn't busy with that, I raced sportscars around winding european streets. In my off time, I enjoyed flying with bats at night, chasing after bugs and assorted creepie-crawlies.
If you think those are lies, you need to re-evaluate your view on life.
posted by nightchrome at 5:47 PM on December 25, 2005


I found a rubber on the night stand and knew that it was somehow different from anything I had ever seen before. When I asked my Dad what it was he said that it was for corns and proceeded to roll it onto his big toe.

This comment makes the whole thread worthwhile.
posted by trondant at 5:50 PM on December 25, 2005


When I was a kid, I sometimes worked as sheriff of a frontier town.

I still upset with you for shooting my horse and throwing me in jail, y'know.
posted by jonmc at 5:53 PM on December 25, 2005


Well, I didn't say I was an honest lawman...
posted by nightchrome at 5:59 PM on December 25, 2005


Well, I was a no-good varmint in them days...
posted by jonmc at 6:01 PM on December 25, 2005


Weren't we all, though? And wasn't that the fun of it?
Back on topic though, I personally think it's amazing that we have so much of our society devoted to playing make-believe in this fashion. Our boring, stuffy, unimaginative culture gives way for one small event and lets us all indulge our imaginations again, if only for a little while.
I think we'd be a lot better off if we "lied" like this more often.
posted by nightchrome at 6:08 PM on December 25, 2005


I don't think this is at all some kind of child development issue or a bad parenting issue; its at its core a parent's right issue.

Parents can teach their children -anything-. Most attempts to limit the passing of ethics and beliefs are seen as anti-humanitarian. You can raise your kid to be a keynesian monetarist, a bigoted fundamental christian, a pagan, etc.

Personally, I think its fairly easy to see which beliefs are potentially psychologically harmful and irresponsible and which aren't. Believing in Santa until the age of 4 or 5 is hardly a big deal, but to me screaming at a child that they will forever burn in hell if they don't behave is a big deal. Or telling them that lower caste members are sub-human. Or telling them women shouldn't be able to vote or go outside without a man. etc.

Even if someone comes up with a great 'how you should raise your kids' method there would be still be enough parents who see this as an attack on their rights to raise a child as they see fit. Thus the hodgepodge of wacky beliefs and customs around the world. I don't think a free society can, or should, attempt to regulate belief unless its seen as bordering on irresponsible parenting.

Even then it would be tough to do. For instance, in the US you could raise a child to be Neo-Nazi and only get odd stares from your neighbors. In Germany, or elsewhere, I would think this would be a good indicator that you are an unfit parent and that the state should step in for the welfare of the child.
posted by skallas at 6:09 PM on December 25, 2005


>Our boring, stuffy, unimaginative culture gives way for one small event

One?

Xmas - presents, pagan rituals, christian rituals, etc.

Halloween - as occult and macabre as the night is long.

Easter - eggs, bunnies, oh my!

This is a stuffy and unimaginative culture? The US is the world capital for entertainment and has produced much in both fine and pop art. Not to mention technological progress. I mean, if we want to start making excuses for Xmas, then go right ahead, but this one isn't going to fly.
posted by skallas at 6:14 PM on December 25, 2005


You clearly overestimate the imaginative quality of the vast majority of your nation's entertainment products.
posted by nightchrome at 6:23 PM on December 25, 2005


Santa kicks ass. I wish he still brought me presents.

Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!
posted by BuffaloBandit at 6:25 PM on December 25, 2005


How dare you try and tell kids Santa isn't real! Now, Jesus on the other hand...
posted by Kloryne at 6:58 PM on December 25, 2005


Santa isnt real?
posted by lemonfridge at 7:04 PM on December 25, 2005


I said this in the askmeta thread, but a few days back my adult son and I talked about how I raised him and his sisters to see Santa as simply pretend-fun to pretend, but just pretend. He was glad he was raised that way-my reasoning was I wanted them to know I would never ever lie to them. The world is plenty full of wonder-no need to insist my sprogs really think Santa was real. I was taught he was real and didn't let go of it till I was eleven. Not healthy.
posted by konolia at 7:04 PM on December 25, 2005


"Well I got a present from Santa. I'm not sure what happened in the Mr_Zero house this year.."

clearly not much of an attempt to disguise the unwarranted mockery and derision in that response.


I fixed that for ya' Rodney.
posted by caddis at 7:18 PM on December 25, 2005


Has anyone ever taken a child development or children's literature class? Kids can't even really understand the concept of history until around the age of eight -- you can tell them something happened a long time ago, but it means nothing. There's also an age that applies to fiction/nonfiction, although I can't remember what it is. Imagine explaining to a child that they have a relative that they have never met. To the kid, this person is the same as Santa, or even the three kittens who lost their mittens.

On the other hand, the Santa myth teaches kids a healthy skepticism. Just because everyone (well, kids) believe something is true doesn't mean it is. If only kids caught on to that point more often.
posted by mikeh at 7:19 PM on December 25, 2005


But we're lying to children...

Oh the humanity...
posted by SweetJesus at 7:22 PM on December 25, 2005


By the way, this post STINKS Mr_Zero. Get your own blog if you want to editorialize.
posted by caddis at 7:23 PM on December 25, 2005


A very odd post, indeed. The links have very little or nothing to do with the editorial that follows. I support the suggestion that caddis offers.

As to the editorial aspect of the post, children are hurt by a lack of love moreso than a lack of truth as truth is suggested to be in this post. When growing up, I was inviggorated and enthralled by tales of the fantastic from both adults and my peers. To treat the Santa story as some sort of sordid con reflects more petty meaness on this particular perp than id does on the con.
posted by stirfry at 7:35 PM on December 25, 2005


and my Christmas libations reflect on my spelling fu.
posted by stirfry at 7:38 PM on December 25, 2005


And just one more thing Mr_Zero. I do not mean to minimize the trauma inflicted upon you in your youth with this dastardly tale that you discovered in your teen years to be a falsehood.

I wish you a Merry Christmas and a speedy recovery!
posted by stirfry at 8:01 PM on December 25, 2005


rodney stewart writes "clearly not much of an attempt to disguise the unwarranted mockery and derision in that response."

Ya think?
posted by Mitheral at 8:13 PM on December 25, 2005


BTW, just to clear this up -- Santa Claus in and of itself is not a child development issue, but that developing powers of reasoning and thinking logically are a part of child development. So, if your kid picks up the Santa Claus (or Easter Bunny, or whatever) out in the world (which in the USA, s/he is about 99% sure to if they ever leave the house) letting your kid have fun with the myth and then gradually say to himself, "Hey, we have a fire in the fireplace, and it's not safe to get in it. And Santa's fat, and the chimney's narrow, and there is no way that eight reindeer are getting all the way from Wisconsin to China to England all in one night," is no harm. It is arguably a parent's job to support this learning process by not perpetuating the myth in a mentally harmful manner. Which is why I (and so many people in the Ask thread) said that when your kid starts in on "I think there is no Santa," then you just ask them to tell you why they think that's so and allow them to trace their own path to the heart of the myth.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:22 PM on December 25, 2005


I fixed that for ya' Rodney.

thank you oh yankee master. will obey the rules in future
posted by rodney stewart at 8:29 PM on December 25, 2005


Because children are not ready for more complex truths at a certain stage in their development. Kids are not little adults. They think and reason differently from adults.

Yeah because adults never believe in invisible men in the sky.
posted by jeblis at 9:15 PM on December 25, 2005


Lying to kids about Santa is on par with lying to someone to get them to a surprise party. You are giving them something and you'll tell them the truth eventually.
posted by jeblis at 9:30 PM on December 25, 2005


konolia: I was taught [santa] was real and didn't let go of it till I was eleven.

My theory is that the Santa mythos is a test to separate the gullible from the rest of us at an early age.

Looks like it's working.
posted by spazzm at 9:34 PM on December 25, 2005


This is retarded. Trying to expunge a cultural mythos... what are you, some kind of nonfiction writer?
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 9:35 PM on December 25, 2005


I was taught [santa] was real and didn't let go of it till I was eleven.

Why do you say he isn't real? You can't prove it. You've clearly had a tragic loss of faith, and you won't find it again until you open your heart and let the power of Santa inside. As for me, I know he's there. I can feel him.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Awesome at 9:58 PM on December 25, 2005


Get your own blog if you want to editorialize.

2001 called. It wants its Metafilter posting guidelines back.
posted by boaz at 10:29 PM on December 25, 2005


"How can mass societal lies be any good for children?"

...and who says Santa Claus is a lie? He may not exist in the corporeal sense, but he's more real to many more people than you are. He manifests himself in far more ways than you ever did or ever will.

I don't believe in Mr_Zero, but I believe in Santa Claus.
posted by insomnia_lj at 12:03 AM on December 26, 2005


Activating thread self-destruct.

If you want to talk about mass societal lies, you might as well start arguing about God.
That fucker's much more pervasive in the world and his supporters aren't only b-list celebrities. (And yeah, he has plenty of large corporate sponsorship as well.)
For me, finding out God doesn't exist was more of a life-defining moment than realising Santa doesn't exist...

Take that, stupid thread!
posted by slimepuppy at 1:23 AM on December 26, 2005


*sigh*
I've said it before, and I'll say it again.
People Suck.
posted by nightchrome at 1:40 AM on December 26, 2005



posted by mosessmith at 3:41 AM on December 26, 2005


Relating to the appearance of the NORAD control room is an entertaining story I've heard several times, though never seen real evidence for. Apparently, when Reagan became President, he immediately wanted to see the War Room, as portrayed in "Dr. Strangelove." When he heard that no such room existed at the Pentagon, he ordered one built.

Has anyone else heard this?
posted by sindark at 4:43 AM on December 26, 2005


I think Medieval Maven nails it.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:39 AM on December 26, 2005


I was taught he was real and didn't let go of it till I was eleven.

Were you home schooled then, konolia? Because at the school that I went to, anyone who still believed in the man with the beard was rapidly disabused of the notion by the age of five or so.

And while you still had some children who clung dogmatically to what their parents told them about things like God and Santa Claus, I think it took a real stubbornness or effort of will to sincerely believe in those things once you'd had the flaws in the arguments and the conflicting evidence pointed out to you.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:50 AM on December 26, 2005


People didn't homeschool back then.

Also, back in the late sixties, early seventies, NO ONE was saying that Santa wasn't real. Pragmatically, in the back of our minds we all thought the minute we said he wasn't, no presents. Seriously, none of my friends at school ever implied no Claus.

One of the main reasons I did not lie to my kids about Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy (altho they still got candy and money under the pillow, etc.) is that when we talked about God I didn't want them lumping Him in the same category.
posted by konolia at 7:35 AM on December 26, 2005


konolia is precious.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Awesome at 7:41 AM on December 26, 2005


Smile when you say that, mister.
posted by konolia at 8:08 AM on December 26, 2005


I worry that a five-year-old who is so misled as to think Santa is real or death is not real will be unprepared for rational thought later in life.
posted by thirteenkiller at 5:25 PM EST on December 25 [!]


I'm guessing you don't know many five-year-olds. The ones I know are still unclear on the entire concept of time, much less death. Yet they already handle rational thinking pretty well. Several have figured out that Santa's not a real guy, using kid-logic evidence, e.g., nobody's allowed on the apartment building's roof. So don't fret about the cognitive abilities of today's pre-schoolers.

On the larger question: I think MedievalMaven and modernnerd both point out the more useful distinction to be made: what is the child ready to hear?

I think most of us tend to give a child the answers we wish we'd been given in a similar situation. But children aren't automatons or clones; your child might not need what you needed, or think you needed. Start with modernnerd's "What do you think?" Answer questions, and stop.

Mr_Zero, what were you hoping to do with this post? We all know Santa isn't going away, and I doubt you were trying to organize a futile "stop the jolly old lie" movement. Yet it seems equally futile to try teasing out the effects of such a pervasive element of USian childhood via a MeFi post. An informed answer is way beyond our capabilities, if it's possible at all. The anecdotal evidence here shows -- it depends on the kid. And the family, school, larger environment, any number of specific factors.

The best you can do -- all you can do -- is pay attention to the kids right there in front of you and give them what they need. That's plenty.
posted by vetiver at 8:44 AM on December 26, 2005 [1 favorite]


I don't believe in Mr. Zero.
posted by The Deej at 8:59 AM on December 26, 2005


I may have missed something, but I'm surprised no one has linked this thread over to the excellent AskMe discussion on whether or not to tell children about Santa (you can find it via the sidebar link on the front page). Most of what's being said here has been hashed out pretty well there, and because it was set up as an inquiry, it lacks the snarkiness of this post. I hereby refer all interested parties.
posted by Miko at 9:34 AM on December 26, 2005


Santa brought me Resident Evil 4, so now I'm his bitch for another year.
posted by bardic at 1:27 PM on December 26, 2005



Has anyone ever taken a child development or children's literature class? Kids can't even really understand the concept of history until around the age of eight -- you can tell them something happened a long time ago, but it means nothing.


I don't need to take a child development class to refute this- I remember being eight. Does no one else? I was always curious about the history of my family (and other things) and by eight years old I had heard plenty of stories about my parents, my grandparents, my great-grandparents, not to mention the myths I was taught in Sunday school-- I didn't have the same perspective on, say 'a decade' that I do now, having lived through three and a half of them. But I was well aware that the stories about my grandparents' childhood took place substantially before the ones about my parents' childhood, and so on. Similarly, a year seemed like a long time to me back then, but I was still aware of it as a period of time (looking forward to my next birthday, quite aware of how far away it was, etc).

Heck, my brother was editing code in vi when he was nine. We used to go to our local Apple user's meeting and shake our heads in amazement when Logo was described as 'a fifth-grader's language.' Most grown-ups sure do forget what it was like to be young.
posted by bingo at 4:19 PM on December 26, 2005


I remember being eight.

bingo, you're just wrong aout child development. If you reference the age of eight as evidence that children understand time, you've lost the argument, because that is the age at which children mostly do understand the passage of time. It is below the age of 6 that a concept of times other than the present is not normally found.

By the age of 7-8, children have already entered Piaget's stage of concrete operational logic, at which point they do form a conception of the span of time. However, before that, they have a great deal of trouble with "a long time ago". They may not articulate it, but they really do live in a world of the present. They may intellectually understand when you are talking about a time before they existed, but they can't fully conceive it.

Sometimes you can even witness a young child hearing an adult talk about memories of childhood. The adult might say "When I was a little girl...", and the child might respond "You were a little girl?" or the child may just giggle because the thought is so silly. Or, if you ask the child to illustrate the story just heard, they may draw a picture with the storyteller depicted as adult sized, showing that in the child's imagination the adult was always as they are today.

It's a pity more people don't have a basic understanding of child development -- particularly parents. In fact, I think a lot of the parenting mistakes people make result from an inadequate understanding of how children are thinking. It's easy to think the stuff is bullshit. But after taking an education degree and spending a few years teaching, I found that it's very, very easy to empirically demonstrate how the thinking of children differs at each developmental stage. I had the opportunity to run Piagetian experiments with kindergarten students on conservation of number, and was astounded to find that they really didn't have it. They're not small adults just lacking experience; the brains of children are materially different as they develop, only gradually coming to resemble the brains we have as adults.
posted by Miko at 9:01 AM on December 27, 2005


I don't remember ever really believing in Santa, although once, around age 5 or so maybe, I was hearing so much about him being literally true that I thought I might test this by making a specific request (eye color on my Cabbage Patch Kid I think) that I didn't tell my grandmother. He failed the test. I wasn't particularly disappointed or, in fact, surprised. I think a year later my grandmother, who was the only person in my family that really promoted the whole Santa thing, said "You know Santa isn't really real, because there are really poor kids in other countries who don't get all the nice presents you do. But we can pretend."

I think kids understand the difference between "pretend" (fiction) and "reality" better than many adults. I mean, really, do we need to track our fictional characters as if they were ICBMs? Doing so reduces them from the level of the mythological into being something only marginally more interesting than any everyday person. It is characteristic of our society that we assault fiction not by saying "You know, that isn't true" but by saying it IS true, by making legends into psuedoscience, a pale imitation of factual truth, rather than a higher truth of metaphorical wisdom.
posted by dagnyscott at 12:16 PM on December 28, 2005


bingo, you're just wrong aout child development. If you reference the age of eight as evidence that children understand time, you've lost the argument, because that is the age at which children mostly do understand the passage of time. It is below the age of 6 that a concept of times other than the present is not normally found.

Okay. I also remember being six. I remember being five. I remember having my diapers changed. I remember my birthday parties, an indicator of the passage of time of which I was well aware.

Sometimes you can even witness a young child hearing an adult talk about memories of childhood. The adult might say "When I was a little girl...", and the child might respond "You were a little girl?" or the child may just giggle because the thought is so silly.

I've never seen this, though I do remember that as a child, there were many occasions upon which some adult or other said to me "Believe it or not, I was once a little kid like you. Hard to believe, isn't it? You can't believe it, can you? Isn't that amazing?" And I remember being amazed at their inability to believe that I actually did understand exactly what they were talking about.
posted by bingo at 4:04 PM on December 29, 2005 [1 favorite]


bingo, there's nothing about your memories that is inconsistent with child development theory. Your self-perceptions about your childhood are completely normal and consistent with most cognitive development theories. A four-year-old can indeed know a a birthday is coming, and is beginning to form a concept of the passage of time and being "a year older" (whatever that means); but I hope you can recognize how the concept of an upcoming birthday -- which adults are remembering and helping you count down to and mark -- is more primitive than your adult understanding of the same idea.

Children ages three and four often ask calendar questions like "how many days until --?" They are building an understanding of the organization of time; it is not innate. Ideas about days, weeks, months, and years, birthdays, or holidays, are not firm in a child's mind at birth, mostly non-existent at two, emergent at four, and sometimes not firmly in place even by the age of six. This doesn't mean they don't know the words for elements of time; it means they have not yet developed a complete and organized understanding of time. That is why calendar awareness is part of most preschool and kindergarten curricula; kids don't have it yet. More abstract conceptualizations of the time, such as times before the child was born, geologic time, how long the child is likely to live, what the world will be like after the child's death, and so on, develop even later. Children below the age of six can rarely think abstractly enough to understand geologic time, for instance. They may be fascinated with dinosaurs; they may be able to state the fact that dinosaurs lived millions of years ago; but in their imaginations, their construction of those spans of time is not well developed. The facts can be a recitation without understanding. Thus, in the elementary grades, a lot of effort is spent on timelines, scale, sequencing, etc. -- so that we gradually learn to get it.

To argue that cognitive research is 'bullshit' is to deny a century of broadly accepted and thoroughly duplicated study in child development. Researchers have indeed proposed different constructions of childhood learning, and these theories continue to be challenged and refined in light of new discoveries and a changing environment, but the theoretical constructions are built on observable phenomena which you can test yourself on children you know, should you so wish. Adults can do a disservice to children by mistakenly believing that they think like small adults. Why not start by reading some of the links below? ...it's a fascinating field.

Wikipedia on Developmental Psychology
Wikipedia on Piaget's stage theory
12 Learning Theories summarized for a lay audience
Vygotsky's Social Development Theory
More sites on Vygotsky

Then we'll be all ready to talk about Santa next year.
posted by Miko at 2:45 PM on December 30, 2005


To argue that cognitive research is 'bullshit' is to deny a century of broadly accepted and thoroughly duplicated study in child development.

You are the only person who has used the word 'bullshit' in this entire thread.

I'm sure that your field of study is legitimate and broad, but I feel free to comment on it anyway. Although I have a master's degree myself, I think that pedagogy in general is vastly overrated; people who choose to take issue with convictions I have come to through my own education and experience may be speaking from pure ignorance, or they may have the benefit of a perspective that isn't part of my own paradigm. Perhaps this difference between me and you (in terms of the value of formal education) is connected to our points of view in this specific discussion. I'm also the kind of person who learns best by studying on his own, and I was the kind of kid who always had trouble seeing school as relevant, even though I was always interested in learning.

In the interest of fairness, I read all the pages you linked to in their entirety, including all 12 theories linked to on the '12 learning theories' page, although I did not go through and read all the Vgotsky pages linked to from the last site you referenced. I found nothing particularly interesting or new (a lot of it I remember reading about in the two semesters of psych I took as an undergrad), I don't remember seeing the word "time" mentioned anywhere, and the Vygotsky stuff that I did read did nothing for me. This:
Vygotsky's theory was an attempt to explain consciousness as the end product of socialization.
...well, I disagree so thoroughly at the outset that I admit a lack of interest in reading much more.

This doesn't mean they don't know the words for elements of time; it means they have not yet developed a complete and organized understanding of time. That is why calendar awareness is part of most preschool and kindergarten curricula; kids don't have it yet.

I don't have a problem with this, taken at surface value. But I would argue that this doesn't reflect a lack of mental development. Sure, kids are not born with the knowledge of man-made constructs like the minute, the hour, and the Gregorian calendar, so they have to be taught. And a three-year old, being only one person, having plenty of other ideas to explore, and having relatively little experience with the passage of time, is not going to come up with those ideas on her own. But that doesn't mean she doesn't have the capacity to conceive them.

More abstract conceptualizations of the time, such as times before the child was born, geologic time, how long the child is likely to live, what the world will be like after the child's death, and so on, develop even later. Children below the age of six can rarely think abstractly enough to understand geologic time, for instance.

I think there are very few (if any) adults who have a real grasp on these concepts either, so I find this argument pretty unconvincing.
posted by bingo at 4:40 PM on December 30, 2005


You are the only person who has used the word 'bullshit' in this entire thread

You're right; I apologize. I was confusing you with another user who called child development theory 'bullshit' in the AskMe thread.

I don't remember seeing the word "time" mentioned anywhere


Yep -- not in those links. I tried to link to some basic overviews because it seemed as though you weren't very familiar with cognitive theory. So if you want to read a specific discussion about time, Piaget covers the topic exclusively in his bookA Child's Conception of Time, in which he theorizes that conceptions of time are not fully developed until the concrete operational stage (roughly ages 7 to 11).

He observes that children must master and unite two separate ideas in order to reach a mature construction of time: 1) the understanding that events happen in a sequential order, giving rise to concepts of 'before', 'after', 'now', 'later', etc; and 2) that humans place events into sequence by referencing an abstract standard in which the passage of time is marked by regular, measured intervals along a continuum (as in clock/calendar time).

He also observes that prior to the onset of concrete operational logic, children's concept of time is fluid, internal, shifting, and egocentric. Children cannot be said to have entered the stage of concrete operations until they are able to conceive time as external, measurable, and regular. In his theory, the understanding of geologic time, or of a distant future, is not well developed or even considered by the child until the age of formal operations (onset about age 12), at which point abstract thought develops. (Incidentally, this capacity for abstract thought does appear suddenly in adolescents and coincides with many religious conceptions of 'the age of reason'.

Piaget is not perfect, but his theories have incredible utility and, more often than not, are borne out empirically in the classroom and family. Perhaps his greatest error was to adhere to a rigorous construction of the stages, suggesting that progression from one stage to another happens in a great leap. In reality, children seem to develop more chaotically, seeming to master a concept one day and then not demonstrating mastery the next. But overall, his has been the most useful outline of childrens' reasoning yet developed. Most later theories are refinements of his own.

And I would agree with you that there are some adults who have not developed, or do not use to the fullest, their capacity for abstract thought. People whose cognition is functioning at a mental age of 11 or 12 do have trouble with all abstract concepts. I'm not a big Stanford-Binet fan, but they'd say that about 25% of the population has an IQ below 89, and so a mental age of below 12. Not everyone reaches all developmental levels.
posted by Miko at 6:43 PM on December 30, 2005


In his theory, the understanding of geologic time, or of a distant future, is not well developed or even considered by the child until the age of formal operations (onset about age 12), at which point abstract thought develops. (Incidentally, this capacity for abstract thought does appear suddenly in adolescents and coincides with many religious conceptions of 'the age of reason'.

Okay, now we're back to where we were before. This theory, as applied to my life (just for example), is wrong. I was quite aware of a the concept of both a distant past and a distant future well before I was 12. I know this because I was reading novels, playing games, and even making up my own stories that dealt with those concepts much, much earlier. Suffice it to say that there are enough specific landmarks in my own life that I can be sure of an interest in both the distant past and the distant future at least as early as third grade. I was keeping a diary and worrying about the inevitable relative shortness of my own life compared to the infinity of my own lack of consciousness that would come after it, at least as early as second grade. In these respects, I may not have been average, but I was hardly unique.

And I would agree with you that there are some adults who have not developed, or do not use to the fullest, their capacity for abstract thought. People whose cognition is functioning at a mental age of 11 or 12 do have trouble with all abstract concepts. I'm not a big Stanford-Binet fan, but they'd say that about 25% of the population has an IQ below 89, and so a mental age of below 12. Not everyone reaches all developmental levels.

I'm not talking about people with an IQ of 89. I'm talking about the whole notion of understanding vast expanses of time. Not a single human being has actually lived long enough to have a personal perspective on 'geologic time,' so why do we think we can understand it? Sure, we can talk about 'a million years,' and know that it's less than a billion and more than five hundred thousand, but it's still a span of time too big to be relatable to any experience that we will ever have. A child, like an adult, can still grapple with such concepts...both will ultimately fail, but the adult has learned frames of reference that he can use to convince himself that he knows what he's talking about. But he doesn't really. I'm almost 35, and I now have a certain concept of what a span of 35 years means. That, in turn, affects my concept of what 100 years must mean, and then 1000, and so on...but the further out I go, the more it just becomes an arbitrary expression...not much different from a kid saying '100 years' without really concieving of what *that* means. A child can think 'the length of my daddy's life, 200 times' and I can think 'the lifetime of the Roman Empire,' but we're both just kidding ourselves. So to speak.
posted by bingo at 8:46 PM on December 30, 2005


So bingo, you're basically just saying that Piaget's theory doesn't seem to accord with your own memory of your childhood thinking. I'm saying it's not inconsistent; and to continue the discussion, you'd really need to read the book.

Should you wish to go further and actually develop a disproof of Piaget's theory, you'd need to amass a great deal of evidence that is not subjective (i.e., that does not reference only your own memory).
posted by Miko at 1:42 PM on December 31, 2005


So bingo, you're basically just saying that Piaget's theory doesn't seem to accord with your own memory of your childhood thinking.

I said a lot more than that, but it sounds like you're not hearing me, so I guess there's no point in continuing.

I'm saying it's not inconsistent; and to continue the discussion, you'd really need to read the book.

If your own ideas are not inconsisent with the things that I've said, then you must have done a poor job of expressing your ideas, because it sure seems to me like we've been disagreeing.

What if I read the book, and I still thought it was wrong? Would I be allowed to have my own opinion then? Nobody lives long enough to exhaustively research the rationale behind all the ideas they disagree with; at some point, you have to draw a line. For me, things that I know to be untrue based on my own experience is a comfortable boundary. I feel that I've generously exceeded that boundary by bothering to reading the links you suggested. There are books that justify my perspective too (Jung's 'Memories, Dreams, Reflections' is one of my favorites as far as ideas about consciousness, childhood, and the nature of learning are concerned), but ultimately we're just two people talking.
posted by bingo at 2:43 PM on December 31, 2005


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