Tuesday, December 9, 2014
Hetty Johnston wants to be the Australian Grinch who steals Xmas
Parents warned of dangers of Santa’s lap
THE COURIER-MAIL DECEMBER 07, 2014 12:00AM SHARE
THE traditional Christmas family souvenir is under threat with parents and child protection advocates arguing Santa’s lap should be off limits to kids.
Child protection activist Hetty Johnston this week backed the concerns of Queensland parents worried the time had come to stop their children sitting on the lap of shopping centre Santas for Christmas photos.
“What we would like to see is shopping centre owners updating their child protection policies,” Ms Johnston said.
“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.”
The Santa debate came to light on social media, with Queensland mothers at odds as to whether the practice should end – provoking a strong reaction from Ms Johnston. Many mothers back her stand.
“We teach kids ... it’s okay to say no if they don’t feel safe,” she said.
“This means not having to sit on anyone’s lap, including family members, if they don’t want to. So why should we make them sit on the lap of a person they don’t know dressed as Santa?”
Ms Johnston emphasises that she does not want to be a grinch and said the simple changes would not spoil the experience for children.
Queensland’s Mark Overell has been a Santa for 24 years and is a Santa trainer for Promoworks, which supplies hundreds of Santas to shopping centres across the state, including mega precincts such as Indooroopilly, Carindale and Garden City. He says all job applicants go through stringent background checks.
“I understand where the fear is coming from but the idea that Santa should be lumped in with everyone else is extreme,” he said.
“Our Santas are trained to do everything by the book. The hands with white glov
es are only allowed on the children’s shoulder or around the tummy, nowhere else. We are very proud of how we have conducted ourselves over the years and have had very few complaints.”
Jenna McCarthy, who is mum to two-year-old Aaliyah said: “I wouldn’t force her to be held by a random stranger so Santa is no different to me. I can understand the fear. We hype up Christmas so much and we give kids the idea that Santa isn’t a stranger. What if they come across someone outside the shopping centre dressed as a Santa?
Social commentator David Chalke believes the debate is ludicrous.
“While I recognise the fine work that Bravehearts does, this is another symptom of our hyper-vigilant, risk adverse society,” he said.
“Surely it’s better to teach children to recognise and report inappropriate behaviour if it occurs than to issue a needlessly draconian blanket ban on any human contact — just in case.”