So I guess I'm just now getting around to sharing my personal thoughts on this topic...
My immediate response is to say that lying to children unnecessarily is bad. Why warp their view of the world in their formative years? Aren't there ways to have fun with them, share enjoyable experiences with them, and encourage them to utilize their imagination without telling them lies? I can't help but think that one of the reasons so many adults have difficulty letting go of apparently false beliefs in the face of great evidence is due to parents encouraging them to embrace fantasy and fiction as truth when they were young. If you teach them that any wild story could be true as a child, then at least some remnant of that idea could be carried with them into adulthood. This might then allow them to maintain beliefs that have little basis in reality, thus preventing them from embracing the truth and dealing with the world as it is, rather than simply how they would like it to be.
However, from the bit of research that both Khethil and I did, I haven't seen much, if any, serious support for these ideas. So I've tried to rethink the issue. The result is that I still feel basically the same way, but appreciate that apparently there isn't much information out there about damaging psychological effects of encoraging belief in these childhood stories. But I didn't find the points made in the articles I previously posted particularly convincing, and I think that doing experiments to actually gauge the impact of telling children these stories as if they are true would be exceedingly difficult. The evidence that there aren't harmful effects of these stories doesn't have me convinced, but I am at least more opened minded about the idea now.
I've long subscribed to the "+pleasure and -pain" mindset in making generalized judgments. So when considering any potential 'disillusionment', I'd suppose I should apply that here as well. So such traditions give comfort to the young one passing into sapience; conceded, does that - in the end - give more pleasure than pain in the human experience? Le question at hand!
Tre utilitarian of you! I tend to think the same way (and I believe just about everyone does as well whether they realize it or not, like J.S. Mill said).
I think there are other, more constructive (and truthful) ways that parents could foster the positive feelings and effects that children get from these stories in their kids. So I think the benefits of telling them these things are true outweigh the drawbacks, even if I can't easily qualify the drawbacks.
Why achieve these things through lies when you can get the same basic effects through truthfulness?
I can also perceive some benefits of being honest that aren't realized through the current traditions of deceit.
- Greater appreciation of their parents b/c they realize that they are the ones who get them all those presents and candy
- Greater appreciation of the cost of items b/c they realize that toys have to be bought in stores and aren't just made by a bunch of elves
- Greater consideration of other people on holidays b/c they would realize at a younger age that the only way people get gifts is if people (not Santa or a giant rabbit or a deranged winged lady that collects old teeth) get them for them (this applies both to family members and OTHERS as well, including those living in poverty and the homeless)
- More realistic view of the world in general (as previouly noted in this thread, this will NOT thwart their imagination altogether as children will still use their imagination at almost any chance they get)
- Fostering of a more honest relationship with their parents b/c the parents don't perpetrate some big lie at least once a year
I do have to admit, however, that my memories of Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the Shoe Fairy* are really fond ones, and also that I don't remember feeling scarred or traumatized in any way when I found out the truth. There still could be ill effects of this practice of lying to kids though, even if I'm not directly aware of any impact on myself.
And by the way of a concession to the side of telling chlidren these stories, I do see how it can foster the feeling in them to do good - act morally - even when no one is looking, b/c they get used to the idea that Santa can always see them.
*My Dad used to tell me that if I left my shoes in the middle of the living room overnight that some sort of fairy would put candy in them, and sure enough, most of the time I did it that fairy (my father obviously) left candy in my shoes. I've never heard of this from anyone else, so I guess my Dad was just getting creative with this one.