Was this really ethical? How about the diminutive spies he sent out, code name, Elf on a Shelf, who watched, big brother like, and filed nightly reports on household behavior?
A year ago, I sincerely wanted to know. I wrote to the British philosopher and author, Alain de Botton, and asked him about the use of Santa Claus to encourage good behavior. He is a father himself, and wrote back to say:
My feeling is that using Santa is utterly fine and ethical.
The reason is that any parent has such a hard time disciplining children that the self-discipline that comes from Santa is actually of the mildest, gentlest sort and preferable to the more hard-headed alternatives (naughty step etc.).
Also, children are not capable of ethical choice right now, so the claims of Santa are not an alternative to ethical thinking; they are a pre-ethical way of maintaining order and a modicum of calm.
I don't think that kids do take away from the Santa= present equation the idea that being good gets a material reward (as many psychologists argue). They take away the broader underlying point, which is that being good leads to good things.
|Author and Philosopher|
Alain de Botton
If you can believe it, I have even had to resort to the idea of a friendly sleep ghost in order to lure my four year old not to get up at 3am every morning.
With very good wishes,
Oh, Alain, your words now, as did your books The Consolations of Philosophy, and How Proust Can Change Your Life have come at the right time. Soon, I might need to conjure up my own friendly sleep ghost, but in the meantime, for a short while still, I do have Santa.
May he do his best.
His elves can wiretap for all I care.
If the Easter Bunny has some free time and wants to swing by and offer a carrot, he has my permission. Tooth Fairy—we haven’t officially met, but given the force with which my oldest is yanking at her tooth, I expect we shall soon—you are welcome to sprinkle a bit of goodwill dust in the air. My kids and I have been known to have breakdowns and meltdowns from time to time, and you fanciful entities, as Alain de Botton suggests, do seem a lot less harmful than the cast of characters I have assembled in my situation room right now.
My go-to team of advisers?
First, there’s Captain High Fructose Corn Syrup, found principally in lollipops, a stash of which I was unfortunate enough to win. She and her pops have been used primarily to get my young troops moving—out of the house, through the front door, and into my car, by which time the HFCS treats have been licked, crushed, and devoured by the highly energized children who carried them.
Second, there’s General George the Curious and his colleagues in a remotely controlled region of PBS, who, as far as I can tell, is financed by me and the viewers like me.
Third, in the high range of my register, and in the depths of my bowels, is a voice called, Mommy’s Losing It, that has been known to make telemarketers cry, delivery men flee, and occasionally, get an obstreperous child to follow directions.
Fourth is an agent who likes to keep a low profile. And, to be fair, this deputy of nocturnal sanity is not often called to the table. Only rarely, when all other measures fail and the risk of not using him is greater than the risk of overuse, say on the fourth day of a cold, or first day of an eczema outbreak, does Benjamin “Ben” A. Drill come down from a cabinet.
So, Santa, you show up once a year and then split. Do you think it’s worth keeping you briefed on matters of domestic civility? Worth financing your bag of toys? Worth touting your hyperbolic blacklist of naughty children? Worth feeding your milk and cookie addiction?
If you could help me with a few things on my personal wish list (getting the youngest to sleep, the oldest to stop asking to wear high heels) then, I’d say yes.
What about my ethical concerns? My hesitancy to make a deal with such a masterful manipulator?
I’m in my second term as Parent.
I’m a realist.
I firmly believe in Santa.