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Santa Claus: Naughty or Nice?

Telling your kids that Santa Claus is real is a lie, but does it actually hurt them?
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Any thought of hooking Santa Claus away from the holiday stage is enough to make some parents roll their eyes or throw up their hands in outrage.

"Why on earth are we in such a hurry to take away the innocence and magic that exists in childhood?" says one parent in an online message board.

"Let children be children for as long as possible!" says another parent.

Like-minded mothers and fathers say they would never deny their kids the joy brought on by belief in Kris Kringle. There are those who declare that Christmas wouldn't be the same without good ole St. Nick.

Who's right and who's wrong? Could the Santa Claus tale actually hurt kids? Or is it harmless fun? WebMD placed Santa on the naughty or nice checklist and asked child psychology and development experts what they thought about the twinkle-eyed gent.

The Jury on Santa

Small studies from the United States and Canada suggest that virtually all children know about Santa Claus, even if they do not view him as a real person. A significant percentage of believers discovered the truth behind the tale around age 7. Only half of kids aged 8 to 11 reported believing in Santa.

When they did find out the truth, most of them reacted in a positive manner. Two out of three kids said they felt a sense of pride in figuring out the truth about Santa Claus. Half of them said that although the jolly guy was not real, they liked the idea of him.

Yet there are also various anecdotal reports on Internet chat boards about how the truth has disillusioned or even traumatized people. One mother said she was greatly disappointed when she realized who Santa was, but was more upset that her parents "forced" her to perpetuate the "lie." Her parents had said children who do not believe in Santa Claus do not get any presents.

The way children experience Santa depends on how he is represented to them, says Benjamin Siegel, MD, FAAP, professor of pediatrics at the Boston University Medical School. "If Santa Claus represents someone who is nurturing, good, thoughtful, and generous ... then it's a joyful (experience)."

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