Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Santa Claus vs. Tooth Fairy

Roger Ebert has been very outspoken lately about the problems with religion and other types of woo, so I've been following his Twitter (@ebertchicago) account for a while now (I'm @JeffSatterley btw, for anyone interested in my banal tweets; I'd rather follow Ebert).  He tweeted a link to this letter he received from a fan, which I thought was fantastic, responding to Ebert's review of The Tooth Fairy.  The fan tells his kid's the following story about Santa Claus and the tooth fairy, which was based on the movie Underworld:
Santa had a son who fell in love with the Tooth Fairy's daughter. Because Santa could not abide such a mixing of the species, he had the Fairy's daughter killed. The Tooth Fairy responded by killing Santa's son. So began the blood-feud. Elves and Fairies have fought and died by the thousands over the ages. But, most critical, is what happens on Xmas Eve. Should a child be unable to prevent the loss of a tooth on Xmas Eve, it's possible that the Tooth Fairy and Santa end up at that very house at the same time. When this happens, the resulting battle destroys several city blocks.
I love this.  I just picture little kids, who like explosions and the like, trying to pull their teeth out on Christmas Eve, trying to get the tooth fairy and Santa together so that they can witness the destruction.  I know the story's a bit violent, but most kids are exposed to worse normally anyway. 

The reason I'm writing about it here is because I'm still torn about whether to lie to my kids, when I have them.  Should I tell them that Santa comes on Christmas, and the tooth fairy leaves money under your pillow?  My goal is to raise kids who are skeptical thinkers, who believe things based on evidence.  What's the best way to do that? 

I initially thought that lying to my kids would be wrong.  I'm not going to tell them Jesus died for their sins, so why would I tell them Santa exists?  But then again, if I expect to tell my children only the truth, I'm sort of expecting them to never question what I tell them.  That's not the best way to raise skeptical thinkers.  I want my kids to question the things their told, including what I tell them (I know I'll probably regret this when I'm yelling "Because I said so!", but so be it).  So I think stories like Santa will be like little tests for them.  As they get older they'll start questioning the logistics of the fairy tales, and I'll encourage them to think critically about them.

Not only that, but Rebecca Watson, founder of Skepchick, said something in an interview I recently saw that resonated with me.  She said that she's going to lie to her kids about all kinds of stuff.  Santa, the tooth fairy, monsters in the closet, etc., because she has an appreciation for their imagination.  Being a scientist and skeptic isn't just about being logical, imagination is incredibly important, and it's important to allow children to express that imagination. 

But given that, where do I draw the line?  What should I let my kids believe and figure out for themselves, what what topics should I not lie about, and why?   I suspect I'll let my kids believe the fairy tales like Santa and the tooth fairy, but I won't bring religion into the picture (at least not as The Truth, perhaps in a "Some people believe this and others believe that..." sort of way), nor would I tell them bogus things like homeopathy and astrology actually work.  But why some and not others?  Things like religion and homeopathy have a worse track record than the simple fairy tales, both in terms of people outgrowing the beliefs, and in their effects when enacted (violence and bigotry for religion, illness and even death for homeopathy).  But I'm sure some other beliefs will come up that be more difficult to decide on.  I'm still not really sure how best to decide what to let my kids believe, and what to warn them about explicitly.

Maybe I'm putting too much thought into this, and it will come more naturally as I have more experience as a parent.  Anyone out there have any thoughts on the matter?  


  1. The best way to raise them to be critical thinkers is perhaps to let them know of the cultural myths, like the tooth fairy etc. But also give them some background on it and explain it as a game that people still play for entertainment. Just a thought.

  2. I don't object to the children knowing about Santa and the Tooth Fairy but I wouldn't tell them that they are 'real'. My oldest believed quite strongly and even when we told him it wasn't true, he still didn't seem to get it! My daughter stubbornly wants to believe even though I give her all kinds of excuses as to why it isn't possible.

    Plus, I think it sets kids up for believing in magical beings and god becomes just another possibility. It's hard for kids to purge these beings from their head.

    I like to use Frosty the Snowman as an example. Most kids don't believe in Frosty but they enjoy the story.

  3. Don't tell your kids that santa and the tooth fairy exist, and if they ask you if they do tell them the truth. I hated that my parents lied to me when I had figured out santa was fake and asked them and they told me he was real.