The Tooth Fairy (or Easter Bunny, or Santa Claus . . .): a fun and harmless fiction, or a pointless justification for lying to children?
I am British, so the Easter Bunny never paid a call to our house, but the Tooth Fairy visited at night when our teeth fell out and Santa called at Christmas and filled our pillowcases. I perpetuated the latter two myths when my own children came along.
I don’t know why.
You see, all three examples here are not what I would call “fun and harmless fiction” – each encourages avarice in a child. That cannot be right – can it? Surely it is better to teach our children the joy of giving; to let them see that gifts come from people close to them and that those friends and relatives take pleasure in the gifting. How else are our offspring to learn to give, to give naturally, and give freely.
Not that I think they are “pointless justifications for lying to children” – frankly, that is a weird concept. Why would anybody seek justification for lying to a child.
I do believe that we need to be careful about being less than 100% truthful with our children. There are some big lies, like Santa, that are widespread and the truth will be assimilated in time, absorbed by osmosis almost. What of the other lies?
I’m not just thinking of vaccinations or the dentist and “this is not going to hurt” lies. There are the sex lies too – the stuff some adults make up rather than tell their kids the truth about what Mummies and Daddies get up to. The there are all the “cute” little stories that parents make up to explain a variety of potentially scary phenomena.
The fact of the matter is that adults are authority figures and children will naturally believe what they are told. Not only that, we teach them early in life that telling lies is wrong. They trust us. They trust us not to lie to them, because of what we have taught them. How on earth can we defend betraying that trust with any kind of lie, whether it’s an outrageous fiction or a little fib.
Those lies can come back to haunt – sometimes the adult, sometimes the child.
When I was very young, I think I would have been 4 or 5 years old, I was ill. Very ill. I can remember lying on the sofa in the front room, unable to lift my head The family GP came out to examine me. He sounded my chest with his stethoscope and took my temperature and shook his head sadly. “You have a very bad case of TV-itis” he said ” you have been watching far too much television...” We had recently acquired a set and I had been watching Watch With Mother as he arrived. Andy Pandy, in fact.
I was 13 when I told a neighbour that I once had TV-itis. She gave me ever such a queer look. I knew that something was wrong, but could not quite figure it. I reiterated that it had been the doctor’s diagnosis and she said, well, if you say so… It was only when I caught Flu when I was 16 that I realised – that was what had been wrong with me when I was small and that the doctor had lied. I felt such shame and embarrassment when I thought back to my 13 year old self. There were other embarrassments too – one in particular having to do with Thunder and clouds bumping together (thanks, Dad!) and a Physics class… oh, the shame of it.
You can’t go wrong with the truth – even if you need to simplify it or feed it in chunks as time progresses – but if you tell the truth from the start your child will never lose faith in you. Maybe, just maybe, if they know that Christmas Presents come from you and your hard-earned salary, they might grow up a little bit less acquisitive than otherwise. Be honest, clear and direct about sex and your daughter probably won’t present you with a grandchild when she’s under-age either.
So, mind what you tell your children, and make sure that if you do propagate the myth that it is you personally that debunks the myth in good time. Just let your conscience be your guide.