Child safety expert warns against sitting on Santa's lap

Dec 10, 2014 at 10:30 a.m. ET

It may shock you to hear this as a parent, but it is possible for your kids to be too safe. I'm talking about parenting paranoia that sucks the fun out of any joyous occasion, including Christmas.

As you may recall from your own childhood, one staple Christmas tradition is visiting the local mall to sit on Santa's lap. But of course, paranoid parenting experts have to ruin everything. Namely — an Australian child protection activist, Hetty Johnston, who believes that children should stand beside Santa for their safety, unless they request to sit on his lap.

This is the perfect example of child safety gone too far. I have written in the past about a number of child safety issues, including the fact that I do not think convicted sex offenders should be allowed to hand out candy on Halloween. This friendly interaction with kids makes little sense and points more toward disaster.

But leave Santa out of it. The odds are slim that Jolly Old St. Nick sitting in a sweaty suit at the mall is a predator. We can only trust that each mall has vetted and background checked their employees before hiring, especially those whose sole purpose is to greet children.

It is possible that anyone, anywhere in the world could be a menace to your child, but do you want your kid to go through childhood anxiously looking for danger around every corner?

Johnston provides her terrible advice to parents in the Courier Mail about how kids should safely interact with Mr. Claus. She says, "The directive would be for children to stand beside Santa, unless parents or children request to sit on his knee. Shopping centres have duty of care to protect children on premises."

Johnston's advice isn't all bad. She goes on to explain that kids should be allowed to say no any time they feel unsafe. Children should not be forced to sit on anyone's lap, family members included, if it makes them uncomfortable.

Now we're getting somewhere. This all boils down to autonomy and teaching children how to make sound decisions concerning their personal safety in the world. This is a good thing. But taking it too far, and blaming possible indiscretions on Santa, makes no sense at all.

If a child feels uncomfortable and does not want to sit on Santa's lap, they should not be forced to. As for the rest of the kids who want a picture with St. Nick, let the lap tradition stand. Teach your kids to think for themselves and speak up when they feel uncomfortable, but don't villainize Santa in the process.

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