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"I'm just going to say it: Santa is creepy."

“I’m not sitting on some stranger’s lap,” announced my daughter. She is 5.

We were on our way to see Santa at our local shopping centre because I we have a new baby this year and thought it’d be cute to get a Christmas photo of all the kids together.

But my daughter just wasn’t having a bar of it and my son, who is 7, soon joined in. “Yeah, me neither. Do we have to go and see Santa? I don’t want to.”

Major mutiny from the back seat of the car.

As we drove into the carpark, I found myself a bit startled by all this.  I was about to launch into an automatic defence: “Yes, of course we do you guys! Santa is awesome! You love Santa!”I stopped. I do this whenever I want to convince them (and myself) of something. I just say it like it’s true in the hope they will believe me.

This time though, instead of automatically reassuring them that visiting Santa was going to be such a fun and jolly experience — ho-ho-ho etc — I suddenly realised they were right. The idea of taking your kids to sit on a strange old man’s lap is actually pretty creepy. Really creepy, in fact.

Bad-Santa

This kid knows.

I’m not casting aspersions on all the old men who work seasonally as Santa in shopping centres all over the world. They are probably lovely. I am going to assume that there are screening processes in place and working-with-children checks and all those kinds of filters to make sure that nobody with any kind of dodgy history can get himself into that kind of hands-on position with vulnerable kids.

But seriously, even if Santa is the nicest old man in the world, what’s with the sitting on the lap thing? Surely it’s time to ditch that tradition?

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There might be a lovely old man at the park too but would you let your child sit on his lap? When I thought about it, I realised that I wouldn’t even let my kids sit on the lap of male relatives anymore, as much as I might trust them. That kind of physical contact between children and men is just no longer OK in 2014. At least that’s what we teach kids – and I happen to agree with it.

tough-kid

About as impressed as my kids were.

Some people might say, “Oh, this is political correctness gone mad!” or “What about the magic of childhood?” and “Why do we have to spoil such an innocent tradition?” or “How dare you demonise Santa!”

To those people I would say that we have come a long way in our understanding of child sexual predators. We now know that they seek out opportunities to be close to children and to be in positions of power over them – such as teachers, clergy and anyone working in places like schools and churches.

As Australian psychologist Stephen Biddulph says, our current societal state of suspicion about men and sexual predators is not paranoia, it’s an appropriate level of vigilance. In the past, we just assumed the best of people. Now we don’t and if that means our kids are safer then so be it. I’m good with that.

But back to Santa. I’m not in any way suggesting that all Santas are dodgy. This guy looks perfectly lovely.

escape-from-claws

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What I am saying is that when my kids pointed out to me that sitting on a stranger’s lap or even right next to him was a bit creepy, I suddenly realised this: our messages to kids about stranger danger and appropriate physical contact with adults are getting through. Just because some dude is dressed in a wig and a red suit, doesn’t mean all bets are off. Those same rules should apply.

And that doesn’t have to spoil childhood or fun or joy or Christmas. I told my kids, “Of course you don’t have to sit on anyone’s lap if you don’t want to. I will be there with you and you can just stand or sit next to him on his big seat.”

They were happy with that. I was happy with that.

And the photo looked great.

So I have a suggestion. Let’s ditch the lap-sitting tradition and stick to the pen pal thing. Look how funny these letters are…

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