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With a Santa Claus on every street corner and in every department store, some psychologists--and parents--are beginning to think that the old guy has about outlived his usefulness.

Santa Claus has been overcommercialized, they argue, and his assertion that he will visit only good children disturbs those who may have lapsed from time to time during the year.

But a University of Minnesota educational psychologist contends that the concept of Mr. Claus, if used wisely, still "serves a useful purpose in fostering the spirit of the holiday season." Santa Claus, argues Richard Weinberg, not only represents the spirit of giving, but he provides an opportunity for fantasy--a key element in psychological development--for both children and adults.

Parents play a major role in determining whether Santa Claus will be a positive force, Mr. Weinberg says. They can structure his appearance in their home, set limits on what and how much he brings with him, and reassure children that an occasional episode of naughtiness won't destroy their parents' love for them.

But parents should not lie to chil-dren who figure out that all those men wearing red suits cannot possibly be Santa Claus, Mr. Weinberg says. Rather, he suggests, parents should take their cue from the child, and, if a child begins expressing doubts, should "talk through" his or her notion of what and who Santa Claus is.

And if the child is disappointed that there was no pony or junior racing car under the tree on Christmas morning, Mr. Weinberg says, parents should emphasize that gracious giving and receiving are more important than the specific gifts received.


Because they live in a different "visual space world" than others, athletes generally perform poorly academically, a study by the Sports Vision Center in Philadelphia has found.

Arthur Seiderman, the optometrist who directs the research center, told a meeting of the New Jersey Education Association and the New Jersey Reading Association that those who become athletes, when performing small tasks, often lack the superior hand-eye coordination that they display on the playing field.

"The explanation is simple--aca-demics work at distances of 20 inches and closer, and athletes are out there tracking objects at larger distances," Mr. Seiderman said. "These are two different visual space worlds."

Mr. Seiderman said therapy can help both athletes who have a difficult time concentrating on reading material and academics who have a hard time hitting a tennis ball.

His suggested therapy for athletes includes playing pickup-sticks and the word game "Othello," wearing glasses with different colored lenses, and working under the supervision of an optometrist.

Mr. Seiderman, a reading and learning specialist, said athletes tend to have a shorter-than-normal attention span.

They may also lose their places while reading, jumble letters and words, have poor handwriting, get tired while reading, have a hard time focusing on print, and experience frequent headaches.

The frustration with reading and studying, Mr. Seiderman said, often leads a person to shift his or her attention to athletics, which offer more satisfaction because the focus of activity is a more comfortable distance from the participants.

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