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Sitting on Santa’s Lap Tradition or Traumatizing?

It’s finally that time of year again; the snow is falling, laughter can be heard, and the malls are all getting a bit busier. That is because it is the holiday season, and many families are preparing for the big day, and it can be argued that no one is busier than parents. They are busy keeping track of the school holiday schedule, they are buying all the gifts on their child’s wishlist, and they are making sure the family gets together for dinner. All of this is happening while kids are lying in their bed at night, dreaming of the night Santa comes to fill the tree in the living room. For many, this is the most magical time of year.

Families always have their own traditions that they do during the holiday season, but some are more universal than others, and one of those traditions that cannot be ignored is taking your child to see Santa at the local mall. Parents stand in line for hours while children peek around corners to get a glimpse of the big guy himself, and finally, their turn is called. What follows is typically one of two things: the kids merrily go and jump on Santa’s lap, tell them what they want, and snap an adorable picture, or there are tears (and lots of them).

It is not uncommon to see children freeze up, suddenly afraid of Santa; scream; and cry through the moment, and then have the pictures shared across social media platforms. Pictures of children screaming, crying, and terrified take over platforms in December, and this is normally taken in good fun by most adults. However, while this may have been seen as “good fun” in the past, it may be time to reassess the potential harm this tradition may be doing to children and how it may be time for parents to change how they manage Santa visits.

Sometimes, traditions are so commonplace that we don’t even know when or why they started in the first place. The tradition of sitting on Santa’s lap has a very vague origin story, but there are some ideas on when this started. According to The New Yorker, the earliest record of a Santa in a retail shop was in 1890, and that was when department store owner James Edgar began dressing as Santa in his store, Boston Store in Brockton, Massachusetts. Within just 10 years of this first appearance, Santas began popping up in stores all across the US.

Now, you will see a Santa in every shape and color at malls and stores across the country and families lining up for their turn. Let’s take a look at why this tradition may actually be causing more harm than joy during the holiday season.

When we think about parenting, we think about all the values we try to instill in our children. We shape them as they grow, and there are certain things we need them to know, both for their safety and their moral compass, as they age. We teach them about boundaries, consent, and to listen to what their body is telling them. If we take all of those things and apply them to a scary Santa visit, when we force a scared child to sit on Santa’s lap, we are not enforcing what we are trying to teach.

According to Parenting Safe Children, forcing a child to sit on Santa’s lap simply teaches them that they are not in control of what happens to their own body, something parents have tried to teach their child since they were born. Parents spend so much time telling children that they can say “no” when they don’t want a hug from Grandma or when a stranger tries to grab them. Now, they are in line, telling their crying child that they have to sit on this stranger’s lap to take a picture. Everyone knows Santa, the story, but the person at the mall is a stranger to a child.

This situation can confuse a child and make them unsure if they really do have control over their own body, especially when parents have been teaching them about “stranger danger” and how to take ownership and say “no.” Some experts also believe that this can make a child even more vulnerable to assault as they age.

While it may seem extreme to some, experts are pointing out that forcing your child to do something they clearly do not want to do is a form of bullying. Yes, even parents can bully their children. In an article on Every Mum, Dr. Jason Coulson, a parenting expert, states that this (at the very least) is incredibly disrespectful and a form of parents using their position of power to make their kids do something they do not want to do. He stated that parents often think this memory is funny, and they look back at the picture and smile at this great moment, but when it is broken down, it is adults finding it humorous to feed off their child’s very real anxiety, and then post it to social media.

We live in an age of technology, and children often have a digital footprint before they can even say the word “internet,” and parents are so accustomed to posting these pictures on the internet for the world to see (and laugh) at. Stating that, it is naive to think that these pictures won’t follow your child as they grow and become aware of their presence on social media.

In the end, Santa visits can be fun and hold great memories, but only if a child is willing and wanting. When parents force their child to do something they don’t want to do or are scared to do, it is not respecting their right to consent; it can be damaging, and it is just plain mean. In a world with tons of editing apps, there is no reason that parents cannot snap a smiling picture and have a digital Santa added to the background.

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