Hi Readers — I was only vaguely aware of the shelf elf, so I’m grateful to reader Frankie Wood, who just sent this in:
Dear Free-Range Kids: I know, Christmas is past now, but the topic of the Elf on a Shelf came up in a recent conversation and since I don’t have my own blog in which to rant, I thought it be an interesting (if belated) topic for you.Â Have you heard of this thing?Â It’s a little elf doll that comes with a book explaining all about how hateful Santa is that if you aren’t a wonderful little angel you will suffer the consequences.Â Your parents stick the thing on a shelf somewhere and it watches you all day and then reports to Santa at night.Â Parents are supposed to move it around at night.
The whole idea creeps me out.Â Several of my mom friends love it, but when I asked during this recent conversation, all of them admitted to never having read George Orwell’s 1984 which might explain why I am more frightened of the idea than they were.Â Not only does it go against all of my own notions of Christmas being about unconditional love,Â but what are we telling our kids by spying on them?
First, I think we are telling them that we don’t trust them.Â It’s like those horrible Rogers home security ads that tell you that you need to be able to watch your kid come home from school.Â If you trust them to come home alone, then you trust them.Â If you don’t, don’t let them.Â But don’t SPY on them!!!!Â Second, we are creating an environment in which there is a good chance that kids will only behave if they think they are being watched.Â I want my kids to learn appropriate behaviour as a core value, to be practiced ESPECIALLY when they AREN’T being watched.
But my biggest “creepy” complaint is that we are raising a generation of kids who will think its totally normal and acceptable for their parents (or the creepy Elf, or Big Brother) to watch their every move!Â It really is 1984 becoming reality.
Anyhow, I thought you might have some fun with this whole idea and turn it into something much better than I can write. –Â Frankie
Lenore here: Nope! You nailed it, Frankie!Â
The Shelf-Elf is creepy. Worse, he’s a tool to manipulate children. If you want to have an elf (or a reindeer, bear, etc) that ‘magically’ moves around and gets into mischief/does good deeds/whatever for the fun of it, go for it. But don’t use it to elicit anything but giggles from your kids.
Bingo. I completely agree. I have had countless conversations with my 7-year-old about making right choices when no one is watching. I also know the elf is meant to be fun, but still… I wouldn’t have one on a dare.
Complete overreaction. We don’t own an Elf, but we indulged in the myths of Santa, the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny — just like my parents did with me (my parents even had a lump of coal that lived in the box with our stockings).
Isn’t free range about expecting kids to be capable of understanding more than they are given credit for? So, when a child matures enough to realize who Santa is, they can’t figure out that the Elf was just a game?
Ummm, apparently, the writer somehow missed the whole “he knows when you are sleeping, he knows when your awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good …” part of the Santa-myth that has been around for generations. Elf on the Shelf is just a fun extension of this.
I was given an Elf on the Shelf when my daughter was young but we’ve never done it. My daughter, without knowing that she has one, asked to do the Elf on the Shelf half-way through the Christmas season this year. I guess some of her friends do it. I declined but really only because I don’t feel like messing with it. And, frankly, I think the Elf on the Shelf is creepy. Not the concept as much as the actual doll is freaking creepy looking. He looks like he is going to come alive and chop us up in our sleep at night.
We don’t do elf on the shelf. Mostly because it creeps me out a little and because with all the other stuff we got going on during the holidays I don’t have the patience to do something to switch it every night.
But lots of my mom friends do it and that is fine for them. I don’t see it being any creepier than the whole Santa Claus thing. We actually were not going to do Santa Claus either but our kids decided on their own they wanted to do it when they heard about it at school. So we do it and they believed in it all on their own. We do not make much of an effort to get them to believe, they just do on their own. Which is fine.
I never really liked the pushing good behavior just around Christmas part or the lying part about it.
Eh…doesn’t the old song go: “you better not pout, you better not cry…I’m telling you why….He knows if you are sleeping, he knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake…?” So he has an agent now. Creepy? Maybe. You could put Santa, the Easter Bunny and a whole lot of other things in that light….
I have a far greater problem with nanny cams and live streaming of kids when you are not with them.
I agree with Donna. I think the Elf is rather silly or worse, but how is it different from telling kids that Santa sees everything they do? I’m not big on that either, but this is nothing unprecedented or strange in the sense of new.
I am relieved to know I’m not the only one who eschews the elf on the shelf. I don’t like the idea of telling my kids to be good because the elf is watching them and they won’t get any presents if they’re “bad”. I prefer encouraging my children to behave because it’s the right thing to do to get along in the world. THANK YOU!!!!
My youngest son, five years old, asked me why we don’t have an Elf when all of his friends to. I told him, “No one likes a snitch.”
For the record, we’ve never really done the “be good for Santa” thing, either.
A bit of an overreaction on this one. Its a fun way for kids to enjoy the holidays by seeing what elf is up to next. most parents have him doing something funny or cute. I guess it could depend on how the parents ‘play’ it. I am sure as someone else noted, its pretty obvious its a doll being moved around by their parents – and maybe this is a ‘gateway’ to them realizing the whole santa thing is a farce.
We don’t have Santa (because we are Jewish), but my daughter was afraid of Santa CLAWS – which she would say while making cat claw hands…had to explain he didn’t have claws
I much prefer this idea of kindness elves: http://theimaginationtree.com/2013/11/alternative-elf-on-shelf-tradition-kindness-elf.html
complete overreaction. I have read 1984 and am completely against 24/7 surveillance. I’m not sure how the EotS perpetuates anything more than the typical “Santa knows if you’ve been bad or good” scenario. Sounds like a letter writer in need of attention. move along.
If parents don’t see why this is wrong, maybe they should be given a “CPS Investigator On The Shelf”.
@Aaron — thanks for the Laugh!!!
I’d never heard of the Elf until last year and my kids are grown so it’s not an issue. I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed the ‘burden’ of being that creative night after night. But I’m guessing we would have done it if it had been a “thing” when my kids were little. My M-I-L used to send us those advent calenders with goodies in them…just a way to ‘countdown’ to the big day.
A huge retail marketing success story!
I never knew Elf on the Shelf was a spy for santa, I’ve just seen the pics people post. But I do find it far creepier to have an elf always watching, than the fact that Santa has some sort of omniscience that allows him to know if you are good or bad.
Totally missed the mark on this one. I’m a big fan of this blog and have never commented before but the point of the elf is to be fun; it’s not about watching the kids. The elf is like a fun friend who hangs out at their house during Christmas. There are entire Pinterest boards with fun ideas for the elf. It’s about fun, not surveillance.
I LOVE the “kindness elf” idea, and there’s plenty of ideas for him on Pinterest, too.
My youngest is 14, so we’re well beyond the need to play up the Santa story, though he does still visit our house. The EOTS has creeped me out since I first heard of him, but I actually love the idea of him getting into trouble, and that’s a concept my teens could also get into planning for. So we came up with our own alternative.
Part of our heritage is Scandinavian, and we live in MN, where that’s a large part of the culture. So, we adopted a tomte instead of an elf. A tomte (pl: tomten) lives in one home (historically a farm) for centuries and helps the family take care of the animals and buildings. He asks for no recognition, other than a bowl of rice porridge on Christmas Eve. If he does not get his porridge, he may cause trouble for the family.
I made an elf-size Tomte, and we “forgot” to feed him Christmas Eve, so he stole all our candy from Santa! He has since played a few other pranks, but a bout of flu moving thru our house since Christmas has pretty much brought him to a halt. He will soon retreat until next year.
I ran across this Elf on the Shelf pic this Christmas…and it sums it right up! http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/9d/a7/41/9da741f14f75a67a676cd7385ed9fdb0.jpg
@Wendy’s post reminded me of a tradition that my husband’s family used…Belschnickel, which is Pennsylvania Dutch
“The figure is also preserved in Pennsylvania Dutch communities. The Belsnickel shows up at houses 1â€“2 weeks before Christmas and often created fright because he always knew exactly which of the children misbehaved.”
The Elf sounds delightful compared to this guy, lol. My husband said a relative would go outside and run around the house hitting windows with a stick to scare the kids.
I’ve never read 1984, and I’ve always thought those elves were creepy. Frankie forgot to mention that if your child touches the elf it dies/destroys Christmas/some other horrible consequence. So you’re supposed to convince your kid that there’s this little creature living in your house that constantly watches them, moves when they’re not looking, and can never be touched or it will ruin the holidays. Creepy.
I had read a funny article about how the elf on the shelf is just another commentary about competitive, hyper-parenting.
We did have Santa, I DID use Santa as a leverage on behavior in the past! My kids both know now there is no Santa.
It seems this elf on the shelf has only been around for a few years. They’ve marketed it as a “tradition” to gullible parents. I regret not having come up with it myself.
My kids have picked up on elf on the shelf, their school did it last year. My youngest found among our Christmas decorations a small Will Ferrel elf that we apparently picked up some years ago. They use it as their elf on the shelf but as a seeking game, they know they’re doing it the “wrong way”. They’ve had more fun and laughs with this McDonald’s toy elf by coming up with this game on their own than they ever would have with the real one. Elf on the shelf is a big joke and satirized around our house.
Santa, is a metaphor/fairy tale or a gentle way of teaching children moral lessons about God. He sees you when you are sleeping, knows when you are awake… “be good for goodness’ sake”…etc.. take away the political overtones of big brother from centuries before and what this is really about is God.
The elf, could be construed in that manner as well, but now it is imbued with mischief, or he takes on a persona of his own other than something “holy”, along with potentially serious political overtones. Could go either way, really, just depends on how you present it to your kids.
As for me, I was the 4 year old that was the scientist and told all the kids on the block that santa was their dad. I hated fairy tales and being “lied” to. That’s all those myths were to me, at the time. I didn’t need to be threatened into behaving.
@Kay – that article is a hoot! I had no idea, but can totally imagine, the hyper competitive Elf-ers out there. I suppose it’s because I don’t have Pinterest and don’t have Facebook. Something I’m more grateful for day after day!
Hmmm. It seems to me that sometimes we over think things. I doubt having the &^%%^& elf will cause any lasting damage, or teach the child to be sneaky, or whatever. It’s just another Christmas fad that comes and goes. There are a lot more important things to worry about.
It doesn’t have to be creepy at all. We did the elf on a shelf with our kids this year but we didn’t really stress the point about him being here to watch over the kids and tell Santa how they behaved. Instead it became a fun game to see what kind of mischief the elf had gotten into each morning, and find where he might be hiding. My kids (9 and 4) loved this far more than I would have expected – so much so that my 9yo was almost in tears on Christmas Eve when the elf left them a goodbye note because he was going to miss him so much. He only felt better when I told him that he could leave Santa note asking if the elf could return next year. Like all things, it is what you make it. If you don’t want it to be Big Brotherish (yes, I have read it, and I’m a libertarian, so it bothers me very much) it doesn’t have to be.
We have an elf!
Got it as a gift from my MIL several years ago. My youngest is the only true believer in the house so the older kids did most of the moving (I always blamed our elf Buddy for being lazy because he didn’t move every night). My son is the first one up and usually moved him in the kitchen/great room so he could be near his 4 food groups- candy, candy canes, candy corn, and of course syrup. He often ate candy and left wrappers but for the one time my daughter cut her own hair 2 years ago, I put him in the upstairs bathroom medicine cabinet with the scissors she used on his lap. They STILL talk about that because he didn’t usually go upstairs at all. I admit that was pretty creepy on my part but it worked- she never cut her hair again. If you saw the mullet she gave herself you would understand.
I hear of parents who warn of the elf’s spying capabilities to keep their kids behavior in check and I always ask what they do for the other 11 months of the year. Our elf is a sugar rushed idiot who rarely moves around. I guess it’s how you make this a tradition in your house.
My kids, 14, 11 and 9, were talking this year about how Santa was the training camp for the NSA. Makes sense to me!
Personally, I did the “Mom has eyes in the back of her head” thing to the kids when young and misbehaving in the car.
This elf has been around for a while. When I was young, I had three older sisters, and each of them had an elf exactly like the Elf on the Shelf.This was in the early 1970s. I asked my parents why I didn’t have one and was told they didn’t make them any more. I remember watching home movies from the mid 1960s and seeing my sisters getting their elves one Christmas.Later, each of my sisters wrote their names on their elves and took them when they moved out.
I don’t remember the whole surveillance thing, but our parents did move them around to mess with our heads,and send us to find them.
It’s interesting how some parents think that it’s creepy, when it’s actually for the kids – who want it. If the kids don’t find it creepy, then… what’s the harm?
I do agree with the premise of the letter. My mother in law (who used to spy on her kids) got my ONE YEAR old an elf this Christmas. A little premature I think, but she’s excited about her newest grandchild.
I am thinking we can use the elf with a different story that we make up. For instance, the elf comes out during christmas time so our little girl can tell the elf all of her wishes for Christmas. It will be her little Christmas friend. We don’t Have to read her the story. I wasn’t spied on as a child and I’m not planing on spying on my child.
I never heard about elf on the shelf before. It does not sound like something I would want to do. If other parent is willing to move it every night, then more power to him. It sounds like nice additional touch to the whole Santa or whatever creature in your culture gives gifts for good behavior.
Something that watches kid and rewards good behavior is not new myth. Kids above certain age recognize it for what it is and I do not mind smaller to have their fairy tales.
When I was little, Santa didn’t need elves to help him out with the behavioral monitoring; he had a magic crystal snowball and was literally watching me at all times. If any of you got disappointing presents between 1969 and 1974, it’s probably because Santa was so busy watching me all hours of the day and night that he didn’t have time to pay proper attention to your gift, so, sorry about that.
Anyhow, Orwellian surveillance is not a new aspect of Christmas.
My whole thought is: Who wants to bother with it? I prefer to keep things simple. I already forget to put money under the pillow for the tooth fairy sometimes. It seems like more propaganda that says that if you don’t do Elf on the Shelf you aren’t a good enough mom. My husband does something I hate which is threatening to call Santa if my kids are bad. That’s so mean, and it isn’t true that if they are bad they aren’t going to get presents so it’s just a big bluff and I find it distasteful.
1. The Elf is creepy looking. I don’t care that my kids don’t think it’s creepy, I don’t want one in my house any more than I’m going to buy them that clown doll from Poltergeist to put in their rooms.
2. I don’t intend to do the whole naughty or nice thing with Santa.
3. If I was going to threaten my children with no gifts as a result of poor behavior, I’d want to make it clear that Santa watches you All. The. Time. Psychically. From his fortress of solitude. He does not only watch for one part of the year and he does not delegate to potentially fallible elves.
4. I get that its fun to set up the Elf and have kids find it, but why not do that with something not evil looking, and at different times of the year?
This is a bit of a stretch don’t you think? To me a paranoid and over the top article like this comparing a fun, funny and cute Christmas tradition some families like to have fun with and enjoy to a book about the government watching you and controlling your life even ending your life is the exact opposite if what free range kids is about (NOT being paranoid and over the top, paying attention to reality and not not hysteria). We don’t do Elf on the Shelf because I don’t really need another job to do and would end up resenting and/or regretting that I had to move and set the thing up differently each night and most of the time I would put it off or forget, I am busy enough at Christmas. But I am not opposed to using bribery, oops I mean rewards for acceptable behaviour or removal of such rewards for unacceptable behaviour and telling my kids if they don’t behave the way they know is expected (aka stopping fighting with their siblings) we will remove a gift from their wish list. Everyone works on a system of rewards for good behaviour (paycheques) and punishment or removal of material objects (jail or fines) for acceptable and unacceptable behaviours. But seriously, Elf on the Shelf and 1984? That guy needs a chill pill.
Complete over reaction… for us it adds a little more whimsy and magic to the season…. the kids look forward to seeing him every year after Thanksgiving and can’t wait to give him a hug goodbye before bed on Christmas eve… to them the Elf is a a friend that visits every year and a way to communicate with Santa.
Since we adopted Bubblegum Shiny (and let our 3 year old daughter at the time name him) he is a part of the family… since we are free-range so is he 🙂
Total overreaction. We have an elf, though he is not the actual elf on the shelf doll. My boys enjoy waking up to find him and seeing what he had been up to over night. He takes letters to and from Santa. Our elf isn’t about tattling to Santa. He is just a friend who visits in December to spread “Christmas magic” and bring some extra fun to the holiday.
Not the Elf on the Shelf! I never thought of it as spying until I read this, how very true. For me, I always it’s a clear manipulation by parents. I think positive reinforcement is great in moderation, but this is not that, it’s negative and manipulative and a tad lazy.
I feel the need to clarify. I feel the elf is creepy, but so is Santa, the Easter Bunny, etc.
My husband grew up in a religious household and had a hard time figuring out why his parents would lie to him about Santa, etc., then tell him that they aren’t real, when their lives were based around other non-tangible people such as Jesus. I thought that was so interesting. He lost trust of Jesus and his parents when he found out about Santa. I had a better experience with Santa and co., but I wasn’t as serious of a child 🙂
I hate that creepy little Elf. He will never enter my home and if someone is dumb enough to try to gift it to us, I will take it out back and burn it.
Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny…those are one thing. That creepy little Elf is a little too invasive.
Also, did I mention that IT’S CREPPY?!
“If parents donâ€™t see why this is wrong, maybe they should be given a â€œCPS Investigator On The Shelfâ€.”
Hmm, if the CPS investigator only reported my misdeeds to a jolly fat man who lives thousands of miles away, who can do no worse than not sneak into my house while I am sleeping and is FICTIONAL, I’d have no problem with him hanging out on my shelf. As long as I don’t have to remember to move him every night or feed and water him.
Good grief, we constantly say kids in this generation are no more fragile than previous, but apparently they are according to some here. For many generations in many different countries, kids have enjoyed Santa Claus without growing to believe that Big Brother is watching them all the time and that is okay. Santa, getting on in age and facing a much bigger population, decides to outsource some of his naughty and nice data collection duties and suddenly the world is going into a 1984 hell.
FYI, if your child holds onto some belief that their toys have ever spied on them beyond their Santa years then I would highly recommend a psychiatric evaluation.
I have always thought the elf was creepy. Really…look at it. And, why doesn’t it have any feet?
No, I don’t believe children really think their toys are spying on them. The point is that this elf is symbolic: it says “I don’t trust you”.
Obviously, a CPS investigator who sits on a shelf would also be a toy and be just as symbolic. And I don’t think many (if any) parents would find it cute or funny, but would be offended that someone (their own child or anyone else) would even symbolically imply that they need constant surveillance to keep them in line.
Our grandkids’ ELF doesn’t report good/bad deeds to Santa. He goes away each night and plans a new activity each day for the kids. In the morning the kids will find him leaving out ingredients to make cookies to take to the nursing home, sitting on the open pages of the Bible at the story of the birth of Jesus to read, or setting up the felt Nativity scene for them to place the pieces while telling the story to their parents. No inanimate object has the power to be evil – EVER!
When they misbehave, I frequently tell my two little kids that I am going to call Sir Topham Hatt and report that they are causing “confusion and delay”. On the other hand, when the kids are being helpful I tell them that I am going to call Sir Topham Hatt and tell him that they are “really useful engines”.
You should see the stunned expressions on their faces when I call my wife at work and she says, in a deep English tilted voice, “I am very cross, you have caused confusion and delay on my railway!”
Not long ago, just the week before Christmas, the kids are arguing about something innane. I threaten to call Santa Claus, and my 5 y.o. replies without missing a beat “Could you call Sir Topham Hatt instead please?”
If children find the Elf creepy or not probably depends a lot on the child. But children are certainly capable of getting the Orwellian sense, even if they haven’t read 1984. However that is mitigated to some extent by their frame of reference, as the young Santa believers have fairly consistent monitoring from their parents, and wouldn’t categorize Santa (or one of his Elfs) as a “stranger.” Further “Santa” brings tons of gifts, so I think that on the whole your average Christmas celebrating kid will associate the Elf with Santa’s largess and not find the creepy factor.
I’m sure I would have found it creepy. But then, I found Santa seriously creepy. I was 5 year old who told all the other kindergarteners that my best friend’s favorite gift from “Santa” came from K-Mart (I told her exactly where the display rack was, too). My mistake, I didn’t know anyone seriously believed in Santa, or that they *liked* Santa. So with no one willing to talk to or play with me I spent a solid day thinking about Santa. And the more I thought about it the more it bugged me, starting with “He Sees you when your sleeping…” (I mean doesn’t this guy have anything better to do?). Followed up by him popping in through chimneys…(Why is he inviting himself in?) And wrapping up with the fact that if he was supposed to know if kids had been bad or good, and bring coal to the bad children… why were there so many kids who only behaved in December, and often not even then, and they all still got loads of presents anyhow. In-fact some of the worst kids got the best presents, which was just perverse.
Have any of you seen what people are doing with the EoaS? O.M.G. hysterical…
elf on a shelf gone bad
Google it and look at the images…
“The point is that this elf is symbolic: it says â€œI donâ€™t trust youâ€.”
Exactly how is this saying “I don’t trust you” more than Santa watching you closely enough to know when you’ve been sleeping and know what you’re awake and know if you’ve been bad or good? It is not parents watching them with the elf. It is the same person who was already watching this. This is just outsourcing the same activity.
This is not to say that I think that telling your children that Santa is watching them 24/7 is a great thing but it is something that has been done for many generations with no awful long-lasting effect on children.
These things are wonderful. They prepare kids to believe the relly big lies we tell ourselves as adults – like freedom, justice and democracy.
We had an elf, but I never set it out this year. I don’t believe in telling my kids during the Christmas season that if they don’t behave then Santa won’t come. We all know no one would have the courage to not give them the presents.
A couple of years ago when they were preschool age I thought it was a cute idea, then I woke up.
“And I donâ€™t think many (if any) parents would find it cute or funny, but would be offended that someone (their own child or anyone else) would even symbolically imply that they need constant surveillance to keep them in line.”
I have people tell me that to me all the time and I do think it is funny. My former boss had all kinds of strange things in his office (life-sized skeletons and life-sized dog statues) that he would occasionally joke around as being his spies for when he was in the other office. We knew that it was a joke and nobody was offended. Now when the high on meth co-worker installed real surveillance cameras, there was a huge uproar. (Yes, it was an odd place to work but most public defender offices are).
We had Father Frost and the Snow Maiden bring us gifts on New Year’s Even when I was little, but it was never contingent on behavior… so the whole nice or naughty thing is entirely foreign to me. I am a product of society where, if you did something bad, you were punished on the spot by the parent(s), teacher, or whatever responsible adult (or not so adult – an older sibling, say) was nearby. Holiday gifts were never contingent on good behavior, but just part of the holiday (and New Year and birthday were far from the only holidays with gift-giving traditions!)
Someone mentioned advent calendars. I was eleven when I first saw one – my Dad brought one from a business trip to Germany. I remember only thinking how sad it must be for German children – one tiny piece of chocolate per day, when I polished off the whole 24 pieces in two or three days. 🙂
We have one because my mom bought it, but we’ve never done the whole “you won’t get presents if you don’t behave” thing. Partly because I think it’s mean and also because it’s a threat I can’t follow through on. They get presents regardless and I try to not make threats I don’t really mean.
I think the elf is silly, but my kids have fun seeing where he appears every day. I agree with others that the letter writer is overreacting.
“My husband does something I hate which is threatening to call Santa if my kids are bad. Thatâ€™s so mean, and it isnâ€™t true that if they are bad they arenâ€™t going to get presents so itâ€™s just a big bluff and I find it distasteful.”
Perhaps you find it distasteful because it goes against the basic truth that trust, safety, and empathy are pretty key parts of a loving relationship, with kids, or with anyone else.
Kids learn to conceal what they learn are the “unacceptable” parts of themselves. This is a bit of a disaster, as most of us grownups know. When we sort people into lists of “good” or “bad,” and “naughty” or “nice,” it’s a setup. Kids learn to be more secretive about the activities they don’t want anyone to know about, and feel terrible guilt and shame as well.
As a child, I had no Santa tradition. The other kids told me that I must be “bad” because Santa Claus skipped my house and didn’t leave presents. I learned to hate Santa, because I didn’t like the way parents threatened their children with near constant reminders that “Santa is watching youâ€¦ you’d better be good!” and “Santa wouldn’t like what you’re doing right now. You know he’s watching you, right?”
How about we teach kids to watch for themselves what strategies work for them and which don’t. How about focusing on what we value in life, and stop labelling things and people, judging them and sorting them into piles that give little information or insight into what we do actually value and want more of.
Laughably, the “elf on the shelf” is supposed to be on the lookout to report bad behaviour to Santa, but the way many people use the elf, he’s doing terrible, destructive, messy, dangerous things himself, so it’s a bit confusing. Sort of like seeing your teacher teasing someone mercilessly, or your pastor salivating at the strip joint.
A little magic is a good thing in a child’s life. I made up a bunch of stories about things, had fun with it. I’m very good at those kinds of games. When my kids figured out I was “lying” to them, there was initial rage and frustration at the “betrayal,” but they came to see that they, too, could create some magic for younger children to believe. It’s a game.
When a child’s sense of self is at stake, however, and you are installing the hardware that’s going to run in their heads for the next 70 years, maybe think twice about the threats, bribes, judgement, and labels. Many of us still struggle with the hardware our parents installedâ€¦ have we not learned anything from that?
Oh, thank you, Lenore & Frankie, for weighing in on this one. I have thought the same thing so many times (with out the Orwell reference, though). I tell my own kiddos that Santa doesn’t need an elf to watch them – they are good kids, and he knows that 🙂 I am envious of the next generation, who will probably think better of this tradition.
And I freaking HATE that song. “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.”
So much of our Christmas “tradition” BS comes directly from a few novelty songwriters of the 1940s. And let’s not forget Coca-Cola, to give us the equivalent of the doe-eyed Jesus portrait except with a jolly santa image.
We have very little insight into just how recently all of this stuff came about.
I think it’s a little creepy and silly and believer there are definitely better traditions out there. However, I think every family that does it probably has their own way of doing it. Some might not even use the book. Some might use it as a reward system for when the elf catches their kids doing something good. Some use it as an example of service, having the elf do service projects overnight. So maybe it’s best not to judge it completely as bad. I did and had a friend put me in my place. I posted an article on FB about it’s stupidity and had a friend blast me about how it’s become a fun tradition in her home, that she uses it to teach her kids to find ways to serve others, etc., and it doesn’t necessarily have to be about an elf watching their every move and reporting it back to Santa. While I will never use it in my own home, I can hardly tell other parents they shouldn’t either.
I’m in the camp who wouldn’t do an elf because I think Christmas brings enough pointless busy work for me, but as far as Santa watching and knowing if you’ve been good that year, I really think it’s all in how you frame it with your kids, and less about what our critical analysis can make of it. For me, the “naughty or nice” thing is about accountability. If you want a nice score of Santa presents, you have to keep up your part of the bargain, which is good behavior. If you’re willing to risk a lump of coal in your stocking, then I guess that’s your prerogative. It’s really a social contract between parents and kids. If you define good behavior as being constantly worried that you’ll do the wrong thing because you’re always being watched, then maybe it’s an unhealthy social contract. If good behavior is doing your chores without whining and not saying mean things to your sister, then I think presents from Santa are a positive incentive.
Sure, it’s a materialistic and manipulative game based on a lie, but that’s what it is. “Naughty or nice” is in all the books and songs, it’s part of the cultural Santa mythology. I grew up with it and I’m a functional adult, and my kids are as materialistic as I was despite my best efforts to raise them otherwise, so instead of denying them an age-old tradition, I go ahead and make it work as best as I can.
if you need something like this to keep your kids in line during the night, your SMALL kids who still believe in Santa, there’s something seriously wrong with your parenting.
“So much of our Christmas “tradition” BS comes directly from a few novelty songwriters of the 1940s. And let’s not forget Coca-Cola, to give us the equivalent of the doe-eyed Jesus portrait except with a jolly santa image.
We have very little insight into just how recently all of this stuff came about.”
Well, Santa himself has a very long history, of course: originally he was bishop Nicholas of Myra, Turkey, in the first half of the 4th century. The older, Dutch version of Santa Claus – Sinterklaas a.k.a. Sint Nicolaas – still looks bishop-y and the event is celebrated on December 5th, the Eve before the day he died.
(There are more modern myths as well, invented by some school teacher in the 1920’s or so, so there’s BS about Sinterklaas as well).
That he has some helpers who are said to see all good/bad behavior of kids during the year is also nothing new, so whoever wrote that song didn’t invent new stuff there.
But we never had a doll or something in the house to remind us that we were being watched, and certainly not the whole year. The spying thing maybe came up once in November/December (parent quasi-threatening: “Have you been good this year?”), the rest of the year Sinterklaas was a non-topic.
@J.T.Wenting: That sounds like worst first thinking to me.
Oh that’s what the deal with them is… I thought they were Christmas decs. And they were stupid.
The moving them at night bit reminded me of this, http://distractify.com/fun/pranks/brothers-creepy-doll-prank/
Don’t over think it. If you really sit and dissect all the holiday traditions they’re all creepy in some way shape or form. I’m not keen on Zombie Jesus at Easter time, but it works for a lot of other people -so- can we dial it back a little?
The kids are getting off easy. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e2/Gruss_vom_Krampus.jpg
My oldest talked us into Elf on the Shelf last year because so many of her friends were talking about it and couldn’t believe she didn’t have one. We don’t do the book or emphasize the “she’s watching you!” thing because that’s just creepy. We’ve done some pranks with the EoS that have gotten some great reactions from the kids, such as the elf replacing my homemade pomegranate truffles with rocks, hiding the truffles in with the eggs (elves love chocolate – not all the candy made it into the egg box).
Best one this year was the giant stocking the elf sat on all day Christmas Eve. Kids spent a lot of the day wondering what was in there, and decided that they saw a box that just had to be a Furby Boom. Christmas morning, elf is gone, they dump out the stocking to find packages of socks, underwear and peppermint candy for all. Their faces were priceless. We told them that’s why they should never trust an elf. Probably the only time I’ll be able to get away with giving my kids socks and underwear for Christmas and have them think it’s funny.
I don’t find the elf too bad so long as it’s kept lighthearted.
“The spying thing maybe came up once in November/December (parent quasi-threatening: â€œHave you been good this year?â€), the rest of the year Sinterklaas was a non-topic.”
The same in the US, Papilio. I certainly have never known anyone who talked about being good for Santa anytime outside of the Christmas season (Thanksgiving to Christmas). Even with the commercial push of Christmas earlier and earlier. I don’t know much about this elf thing, but it is my understanding that he comes on Thanksgiving and leaves with Santa on Christmas Eve so he is not hanging about all year spying on kids for Santa.
I think it’s all how you frame it. We don’t frame it as surveillance by the Elf. He is our friend that visits us from the North Pole during December and you can send messages to Santa through him if you want to. You don’t have to be good for the Elf while he’s there, you have to be good to be good. Mostly, it’s a game to find what silly hiding place our elf found the night before. If framed the way the author suggests, I agree, it’s creepy, but you don’t have to follow these exact rules.
I couldn’t agree more. I get little email ads from B&N about it being a “tradition” and I find it repugnant in more ways than I can count. Yuck.
This is just another marketing ploy for companies to make money off of parents who are dim witted. And when I say dim witted, I’m referring to the ones who believe everything they hear online, fear when there is no reason to (or unsubstatiated), and the ones who are too lazy to raise their children doing what is best for themselves, and not the kids.
Interesting take Frankie has on this thing. I guess it could be considered Orwellian. Or at least the first steps towards it. They also learn lies to be truths. To each their own, but my parents never told me Santa was real or not. They told me THEY don’t believe in Santa, or the Easter Bunny, or any other made up characters. But they did tell me it’s up to me in what to believe. Just as long as I wasn’t kidding myself. Because of this, I learned to enjoy Christmas, and go along with writing letters to Santa Claus (it was fun). But I knew the gifts I received were from my parents. I rightfully thanked THEM, and not some fictional person. Mine doesn’t believe in Santa either, but he still enjoys Christmas. Joins in school Christmas pageant, draws Santa and reindeers. I have taught him the TRUE meaning of Christmas. And it isn’t the common idea marketing companies have all lead us to believe.
Children aren’t dumb, or non-observant, never treat them as such. They are our future, and should be raised as such. Who wants insecure, coddled, spoiled, bratty adults running things. It’s bad enough as it is, imagine most of the kids these days grown up taking over. Lawdamercy!
So the EotS reports to Santa if the kids have been naughty, but most of the “poses” or hiding spots he has when he gets back are full messy naughty mischief? Double standard much?
I’ve had a ton of fun with EoaS this year. Not because I have one or ever entertained/terrified the kids with one, but because a friend posted one picture of EoaS every day before Christmas. This link should give you an idea.
Someone else mentioned this kind of elf-fun earlier in the thread but–selfishly!–didn’t include a link.
I am glad some other people find Elf on the Shelf creepy. I was having trouble articulating to friends and family who do it why I was so uncomfortable, especially with the book.
I do like it when it is used as a “Let’s see where he is hiding this morning” type of game. I don’t like the reporting back, and holiday ruining if you touch him.
It is not like kids would really behave better when you tell them Santa Claus is watching them. They do not. They behave how they behave normally no matter how desperately parent is desperately trying to use Santa. And I am 100% sure that no kid in age where kids still believe in all that would be able to behave whole year just to get gifts months later.
Small kids simply do not have such long term thinking and self control. They do not tend to stop and logically reflect on what will happen much later before misbehaving.
Plus, lives of small children are controlled to the point that would be very hard to accept for most adults. They have little to no control over what they eat, when they go to sleep, what they watch in tv etc. They have no money to buy what they want.
And they are mostly ok with that. Additional Santa watching them does really sound like all that much of additional control.
As for trust, most kids are not perfect and normal kid of age three already know to close the door before doing something it is not supposed to do. At least, mine do.
So, at this time, I do not trust my kids to behave when no one is watching. Proofs of misbehavior are all around when I open those door.
I wouldn’t have that thing in my house on a bad bet. Not because it’s “creepy” , but because it is in awful taste. That thing is dumber looking than the Keeblers.
We got an elf a few years ago and named him “John Jacob Jingleheimer-Schmidt”. Unfortunately, we think that he must be dead since he never moved from the box he came in. We were very careful not to touch him, too. We were hoping that by adopting an elf that Santa would know how good the kids have been, but alas there were no gifts from Santa under the tree on Christmas morning. Nothing in the stockings either — not even a lump of coal. The children were so disappointed. It has kind of become a tradition here to go shopping the day after Christmas and pick up the gifts that Santa didn’t bring.
I agree that the Elf is creepy. More importantly, I don’t think the Elf is for the kids at all. I think it’s for the over-involved parents who cannot find ENOUGH things to do. Seriously! I’ve seen what the Elf does and who has time for that stuff? Someone told me that they had an alarm wake them up so they could move the Elf. I’m lucky I buy presents and wrap them.
Some one told me about a you tube video parody. “What does the elf say?”. Now that’s all I think about when I see him. Not a kid friendly clip in case you find it.
Hey! Who subverted my Elf?
I have a green one from about 1966, and a red one from a few years later. They are beloved pets, not nasty snoops. So there. 😉
Uh, lighten up, Francis.
One of those rationales for helicopter parenting is that you have to make sure that nothing emotionally scarring happens to your child. This is part of the reason for things like “everybody gets a trophy” and such. “We have to be careful with the messages we are giving our children!” This is why you can’t have Tom and Jerry fighting anymore–they have to be friends. We can’t show Wile E. Coyote falling off of a cliff because children might think that it’s okay to do that.
No, “Elf on a Shelf” is not some conspiracy to brain-wash our children to accept a “surveillance state” in the future. It’s a doll that you use to trick your children to behave so that they will get a reward come Christmastime. Hell, I know parents who kept a hickory switch on the mantle in order to generate the same effect–“Be Good Or Else.”
You’re over-thinking this. Lighten up.
Holy over-reaction Batman! The shelf elf is just a fun game for families, I don’t know anyone who takes it that seriously.
There’s a big difference between thinking something, somewhere, is out there watching you (like Santa or the police) and actually having something physically watching you and looking for bad behavior (like the Elf or the NSA). I realize the Elf isn’t really watching, but the intention is the same.
I agree with the author. So many kids today are growing up with Facebook or whoever watching every single thing that they do, that it probably wouldn’t faze them if more of our civil liberties disappeared.
Is *that* what those things are supposed to be for? I’ve only encountered them in ironic contexts, like a friend who took hers on a road trip like the Roaming Gnome.
We’re Gen Xers, we like irony.
I am not cool with the Elf. He is a spy and a tattle-tale. I don’t want my kids coming to me telling me of their siblings’ petty transgressions so I am not inviting a snitch over to do that sort of dirty work for santa.
Lenore, this is one point where I will have to very strongly disagree with you. In our house, the Elf on the Shelf is no more than a fun holiday tradition. The elf comes after Thanksgiving and leaves Christmas Day. My children love seeing where it’s hiding each day. Until I read this, I had never thought of any of the implications you gave. Everyone against it is taking the elf WAYYY too seriously. Santa has been said to be constantly watching you for generations. How is the Elf on the Shelf any worse? There’s no difference between saying that Santa’s watching you and saying an elf is watching you and reporting to Santa. This is the most absurd reaction to an innocuous tradition I’ve ever seen. What about leaving cookies and milk out for Santa(and sometimes carrots for the reindeer)? Doesn’t that teach kids bribing is okay?
I’m waiting on the massive recall and urgent warnings to start, …. ” warning- your child may suffer emotional stress and nightmares from the belief the elf is possessed, also the risk of physical injury should elf be knocked of its shelf… ‘ having such a dangerous item around a child will be the next neglectful parenting mistake.. Damn elf!
Some folks did a hilarious (adult-rated) series of naughty elf photos. After that, it might be difficult to separate my sick sense of humor from my kids’ Christmas magic. 😉
But seriously, the concept bugs me as well. When I was little, every year I feared I was getting coal because I was certainly not perfectly behaved all year! But at least I could hope Santa was busy paying attention to some other kid who was naughtier than me. The idea of having my own personal little snitch would not have been fun at all, I don’t think. Though it could be fun to do it minus the snitching part.
But dang, it sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? I can’t even remember to do the tooth fairy half of the time, let alone an every night ritual.
On a serious note, I find it important to tell my kids that everyone makes mistakes and it doesn’t diminish one’s worth. I used to feel uncomfortable on the rare occasion that I warned my kids “Santa’s watching you.” (Until they grew out of the fantasy stuff, and I could honestly say, “Santa’s watching you.” 😉 )
Personally, I start dusting off the ‘Santa is Watching’ (empty) threat every year right after Halloween and milk it until the wee hours of Dec 24. In my quarter century of parenting, this evil tactic been known to help avoid many a meltdown and restore proper behavior within seconds. None of my adult children seem any worse off for it. In fact, they all joke about it today and make fun of me for playing the Santa card so blatantly and without apology. They were all raised “free range” (before there was a term for it) and they’re all very independent and capable young adults, confident and unparanoid. I wasn’t aware of the elf thing, but it’s no biggie. I think it sounds pretty funny!
My letter to Santa :
I can explain, the bloody elf has it in for me, it’s not as bad as the sneaky little b*****d reported back to you….
Love Really Bad Mum..
I’m surprised that no clever marketeer thought of adding nanny-cam style surveillance to an Elf.
I mean he is supposed to watch, so why don’t add the feature of actually watching.
Think of the children.
“I am not cool with the Elf. He is a spy and a tattle-tale. I donâ€™t want my kids coming to me telling me of their siblingsâ€™ petty transgressions so I am not inviting a snitch over to do that sort of dirty work for santa.”
He must be a South Pole Elf.
The fallacy here is that you’re applying adult thinking to a child. I had some major concerns along the lines presented in this post when a grandmother got ours for my 2 year olds. But they’re six now and absolutely love the thing. They see it as a connection with Santa more than a security camera. It spurs a lot of imagination because we like to talk about what ‘he’ was doing when not at our house and why ‘he’ chose to sit wherever he has picked for the day. It doesn’t generate a fear factor for good behavior, it’s just a visual reminder that they need to think about the choices they’re making.
Plus, the OP is smug as hell and it’s really annoying.
@W, wait till the little b*****d dobs you into Santa…
@ Lollipoplover, next yer lets take a hit out on the little rat. 😉
Exactly! Kids simply don’t think of all the things Frankie brought up. They see it as nothing more than, as you said, a fun connection to Santa. And if that’s how they see, why should I see it any differently? Lighten up, Frankie.
@Andrea quite the contrary. If you’re a decent parent whose kids behave themselves (and I don’t mean they’re mindless morons, but normal kids who don’t go out and steal, rape, pillage, vandalise, lie, etc. etc.) you don’t need something like this to shame or fear them into behaving themselves. Those kids will behave themselves because it comes natural to them.
When I was a kid, my parents didn’t need scare stories to prevent me stealing cookies (or worse, though worse would have been hard living in the middle of nowhere). The very thought didn’t cross my mind because they’d raised me to respect other people and their property.
And no, they didn’t “abuse” me to get to that point. They didn’t need to. They treated me such that I didn’t want to bring shame to the family name, even at an age young enough to still believe in Santa I knew it was wrong to do the things kids today need to be kept in constant fear not to do, like steal, beat up other people, etc. etc..
It’s not for nothing that “toys” like this appear in the same generation where the popular “passtime” for teens is ganging up on random people in the street and beating them to a pulp “just for fun”.
I’d never heard of the Shelf Elf. But I just finished reading Dave Eggers’ “The Circle” and this goofy fad would fit right into the world of the novel. Which really freaked me out, by the way.
Oh my! I had to de-lurk for this one. I can tell you from personal experience that this idea is not only creepy, it’s downright paranoia inducing.
When I was a wee girl, my parents did this to me using an almost identical elf to the one pictured. They would place it in the shrubbery just outside our house where it was easily viewed from within — day and night. Imagine the feeling of unblinking eyes staring at you the whole week before Christmas.
When I spied the elf, I wouldn’t look at it directly for fear it would flee and tell Santa I was being naughty. Presents were on the line after all. To keep my fear fresh, Mom or Dad would sneak outside and change its location from time to time. They’d say it moved to get a better look at what I was doing. They even secreted the elf to a Christmas eve celebration at a relative’s.
My bedroom window had lots of tree branches just outside. One night I walked in, flicked on the light, and there it was — right outside with it’s nose practically up against my bedroom window! (cue the Psycho music.) I screamed bloody murder. I was literally terrified and nearly inconsolable. My mom told my Dad to ask it to leave and not come back please. I could not sleep in my bed that night. Once I finally realized that was really and truly gone for good, I was so relieved that I no longer cared whether Santa left me nothing but a stocking full of coal. (I mean, what kind of jerk would send his minions to terrify good little girls like me?) Luckily that didn’t happen, but it tells you how much that elf’s constant wide-eyed gaze stressed me. Just in case you are wondering, no, I will not be continuing this family tradition.
I find him obnoxiously creepy in that “I’m watching youuuu” …no thanks.
A friend does the “kindness elf” which I find infinitely more charming in that it encourages her kid to do kindness, not behave under surveillance for the hope of material reward.
And the Shelf Elf is just really creepy looking, to boot.
If motivation to do the right thing has to come from being spied on and not being moral than we are a really messed up society…oh wait never mind we are a really messed up society.
We don’t do the Elf because it is another way of commoditizing Christmas. Who needs more of that?
I’m shocked and appalled. I read through most of the comments, expecting to find stories about self-respecting youngsters having brutalized said elven-monsters….you know, elfs flushed down the toilet, decapitated, chewed by dog, cat, guinea pig and toothesome kid sisters, and otherwise by other means savaged (in revenge?)
….and nary a sordid story in sight. Have we already arrived inside Farenheit 451? Will Oscar and Julie greet us at the breakfast table, after a refreshing night’s nap in elfland?
I think the cat out of the bag is the kids’ responses themselves.
If one of them there elves had shown up in my bedroom, I’d have known what to do with it. Make my own Hitchcock movie, that’s what!
But then………spying is okay, isn’t it? It’s so okay, that even the metaphorical surrogate suggestion of it is okay.
It’s always okay when it’s in “the best interests of kids.”
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We have had an Elf for four years now. He’s a lot of fun, and actually belonged to my husband’s grandmother when my husband was young. The Elf moves when our son has been good, but doesn’t when he’s not been on his best behavior. We’ve kind of made up our own mythology, and when our son asks us questions, we let him to come to his own conclusions instead of telling him what to believe. It’s definitely an exercise in creativity, for all of us. I thought that this year was going to be the last, but our son truly enjoys when the Elf comes to visit. I’m pretty positive that he doesn’t really believe in the Elf’s powers, but to see the look on his face when the Elf has thrown toilet paper all over the Christmas tree or gotten stuck on the chandelier overnight is one of the joys of the Christmas season for us. For us, it’s treated as more of a reward for observed good behavior, rather than a reminder that our son is always being watched.