Parents should stop worrying about whether perpetuating the Santa Claus myth is harmful, say two Utah State University family specialists. It isn't.

Parents waste a lot of energy worrying about the place Santa should have in children's lives, said Ann Austin, an early childhood specialist in the USU College of Family Life.Austin says parents wonder if it's deceitful or if children will mistrust them when the truth is discovered.

"These are needless worries because stories of Santa will not hurt children. Children who would resent their parents for Santa "lies" would find other fodder if the Santa stories were not there," she said.

Dr. Glen Jenson, family and human development specialist in the college, says children go through a gradual transition from belief to disbelief. Laying aside the Santa myth is just another rite of passage.

He says surrendering the myth lets children join adults in the conspiracy to make other kids happy.

A joking, noncommittal attitude from parents will make the transition easier. By the time children are 7 or 8 they are likely to understand that Santa Claus really represents the spirit of giving to others, he said.

Austin agrees. "Children are proud to have made this intellectual discovery. It is a milestone and gives the youngster a sense of perspective to know that at one time something was believed, but it has now been replaced by mature realism," she said.