Santa is making children entitled



I know a lot of parents do it: kids start acting bad around Christmas time, so we remind them that Santa sees who’s naughty and nice. This is not the best practice for raising a strong, autonomous child.

We can all remember a time in our lives when this appeal was made for us to change our behavior. I recall trying to be a good kid in the hopes of getting a Game Boy when I was younger.

This Christmas, it seems like children across America are falling in line for Han Solo to appear in their stocking. Kids will do just about anything to ensure the Christmas ecstasy they expect is not threatened. The obvious problem with this attitude is that it makes behavior contingent on reward. Kids come to have high expectations for not being bad, and it can be easy from them to become entitled.

Christmas is about giving, though, and it can be done without the expectations and entitlement. On the other hand, there is still a problem with invoking the Santa Claus defense. Santa knows all your good and bad actions and even, “sees you when you’re sleeping.”  This is where Santa acts not in the best interest of kids.

In the 18th century, Jeremy Bentham developed a similar idea – the Panopticon.  For prisoners, Bentham thought, the best way to regulate behavior was to be able to watch them at all times. In particular, the prisoners need not know when they are, or are not, being watched — only that they can be at any particular moment.

As most of us know, this is taken to the extreme in George Orwell’s classic, “1984.”  The society that Orwell envisions is one where the government can see the thoughts or actions of any citizen at any time.

The real power of these structures, however, is not in the direct intervention of thought or action. The prisoners in the Panopticon and the citizens in 1984 are affected just from the idea of being surveilled. This guides their behavior and the intention behind actions, thus forfeiting the moral autonomy which characterizes us as human.

Children are now being subjected to this same idea. Santa Claus is like the watchman at the Panopticon; their behavior and the intention behind it is altered accordingly. In particular, kids act not for themselves, or some innate idea of what is right, but because of the fat white man potentially peering over their shoulder.

Growing up, we are educated away from being strong-willed and autonomous, becoming almost dependent on the feeling of being surveilled. So, it’s no wonder that so many find nothing wrong with the NSA; it might actually be a comforting idea for those whose behavior and intentions were conditioned by the idea of surveillance.

This Christmas, as we reflect on another passing year, we should remember that we are the sources of our decisions. In the same way that we deal with the power of surveillance by facing it and realizing our own motivations, we should teach children to think beyond Santa’s surveillance.

Patrick Brennan is the assistant opinions editor of the Kentucky Kernel.

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