Elf on a Shelf: Cute or Creepy?
Everywhere I turn I keep hearing about Elf on a Shelf. Parents in the schoolyard are talking about what a wonder it is, there are news reports about it increasing the magic of Christmas, and it is all over the Internet. And now there is even an animated TV show about it. There are even funny but not suitable for little children photos.
What is this new "family tradition" of The Elf on a Shelf? It is a wooden elf that comes complete with storybook. The Elf, so the story goes, has magical qualities; he watches the kids during the day and then goes back to report to Santa each night. The Elf is a playful little guy so he re-appears each morning in a different place [note to parents: you have to remember to move it nightly], to scare... I mean... observe... no, I mean delight the children each day.
If the Elf is touched then his magic will disappear and he will not be able to report to Santa about all the great behaviour that will propel the nice kids to the top of the Nice list. So the Elf is both an example of Christmas magic and part of the Santa behavioural management team.
I am not in the Santa business (we are Jewish) so I don't worry about whether my kids are believers or not. (Though, interestingly two of them are.) I understand that it is important to parents that their kids believe in the magic of Christmas and Santa - that somehow a part of the innnocence of childhood is dependent on that belief.
As a parent, I also understand that you want your kids to behave and the weeks leading up to a gift-giving holiday can be very stressful and ripe for greedy behaviour. So I understand using threats such as: 'if you continue to beat your brother there won't be any Christmas gifts for you' or 'if you keep drawing on the walls with the Sharpie, Santa will not be visiting'. But telling your kids there is a spy in your home watching them?
I find that creepy. Super creepy.
And to be honest, not really a parenting tool that I want to employ. It's not that I'm above threatening (though I wish I was) but using Santa as a threat and having your kids believe they are under constant surveillance? It just isn't the way I want to parent. The Gentle Mom outlines some good reasons why she isn't a fan of the Elf.
I know that a lot parents disagree with me and they think that the little Elf is the best thing ever. So I asked Alyson Schafer, parenting expert and author, about what she thought about using an external source such as a wooden doll on the shelf to teach good behaviour. She sent me this email:
The naughty list is as much a part of the Santa story as flying sleds and elves at the north pole. Let me remind parents that its a HISTORIC tale, not a parenting manual. Let's stop using the Santa story to justify poor parenting practices. Threats as a method of manipulating children's behaviour is not recommended by mental health practitioners. And neither is lying! This new Elf on The Shelf is both.
You know that line in the movie Elf when Will Ferrell goes up to the department store Santa and says: "You are sitting on a throne of lies!" I think that is what Buddy would feel about the Elf on the Shelf too, or at least that is how I feel.
Do you have an Elf on your shelf? Do you think they are cute or creepy?
Aside: Alyson wrote a great book on parenting called Ain't Misbehaving, so try putting Alyson on your shelf instead!