To lie about Santa or not to lie — that is a question on a lot of parents’ minds

A furious debate on TikTok has generated millions of views in recent days.

SHARE To lie about Santa or not to lie — that is a question on a lot of parents’ minds
Rick Rzeszutko, dressed as Santa Claus, sits in a sleigh prop at 900 North Michigan Shops this holiday season.

Should parents tell their kids Santa isn’t real? The debate is raging on TikTok.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Nothing about 12-year-old Jack Thom suggests he’s mentally scarred after discovering his mother had lied to him about Santa.

“I was pretty chill about the whole thing,” said Jack, a seventh-grader at Portage Park Elementary School. “Also, people always say he comes down the chimney, and I always thought, first of all, he’s a bit too fat to come down the chimney. And second of all, I didn’t have a chimney ... because I was living in an apartment.”

Jack’s mother, Sarah Thom, calls the deception a “little white lie.” But many others don’t see it as something quite so innocuous. As of Wednesday, #SantaIsntReal had generated about 20.5 million views on TikTok.

“I will NEVER lie to my kids that a grown man breaks into our house,” TikTok user @Barefoot.Mimosas said, responding to a post by @outlandish_fam, who says she doesn’t lie to her kids about Santa.


I know ill get alot of hate for this but its a hot topic i never discuss afriad of causing any trouble but i dont have a single regret so why am i ashamed? We still celebrate christmas i just dont lie about santa nor do i judge anyone who does, so y wud it bother others what i do? #hottopic #controversial #saintnicholas #santaisntreal #fyp

♬ Un Poco Loco - From "Coco"/Sped Up Version - Anthony Gonzalez & Gael García Bernal

“When he found out Santa wasn’t real, literally his first question was: Then is Jesus not real too? And we didn’t want them to come to a crisis like that,” said user @StacyJoyHanna, talking about her brother and explaining why she tells her kids that Santa is a “fun story,” but isn’t real.

There are plenty of others standing up for Santa: “Oh come on!!! It brings magic and imagination to children all around the world! How can you sabotage that at such a young age?! I’m all for Santa!” said user Peonie 9, a mother of three girls. responding to a post by @curiouslymedia.

Some have speculated online that Gen Z parents are driving the trend to out Santa, but others say the debate about whether to tell kids the truth is cyclical or that there’s more anxiety now on the subject because kids can do their own sleuthing online.

“Because of social media and the accessibility of information, even young kids are on the internet googling things. You can just ask Siri. You don’t have to be able to type or spell,” said Miller Shivers, a staff psychologist at Lurie Children’s Hospital.

Shivers said well-meaning parents may unintentionally confuse their young children if they try to explain that Santa “isn’t real.”

“It’s a tricky thing because developmentally they aren’t sure what’s real and what’s not real. So explaining to them that Santa isn’t real might actually be confusing,” Shivers said. “Santa Claus has a real human face. When you go visit Santa at the mall … and sit in his lap, he has a face. He’s not like Mickey Mouse or Chuck. E. Cheese. … To them, he is a real human.”

Shivers said she’s never seen a child for Santa-related trauma.

“To my knowledge, in my 20 years of doing this, I have never had a child come for treatment because of that. With some of these things, we have to relax a bit and let the tradition be the tradition,” she said.

Andrea Lee Bushala, a North Side clinical social worker, agrees.

“I don’t meet many adults who are traumatized by that story, and parents aren’t really talking about it in therapy either — and they’re talking about everything. So I don’t think it’s that big of an issue, but TikTok makes everything a big issue,” Bushala said.

It’s best to listen carefully to your kid when they’re asking questions about Santa to understand what they really want to know, Bushala said.

“Because when they ask where babies come from, sometimes they just want to know the name of the hospital,” she said.

But if they’re asking the Santa question “pointedly, it’s better to just answer their question even if they’re on the younger side of not believing,” she said.

Like Jack, the Portage Park seventh-grader, most parents outside his school last week were pretty “chill” about Santa and embraced the chubby, rosy-cheeked old guy.

Andres Roman, the father of an 11-year-old, said his kid still believes in Santa.

“It’s not Christmas without Santa Claus,” Roman said. “That’s what makes it special. You take that away from the kids, it’s kind of sad.”

Jose Garcia, 56, has kids ranging in age from 11 to 40. He’s Catholic. He’s OK with Santa because it gives him an opportunity to talk about St. Nicholas, born about 300 years after the birth of Christ in Turkey.

“For me, it gives them a spiritual upbringing. ... Even though it’s a fictitious character, I don’t see any harm in giving a child a hope for something better in life,” Garcia said.

But still, it’s a lie, isn’t it?

“Of course. … It’s a nurturing thing. It’s not a vicious lie,” he said.

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