Why I Will Never Buy Elf on the Shelf

I hate the Elf on the Shelf. Not only is it ugly and not quite tacky enough to be cute, it stands for a bunch of values that are the opposite of what I want to teach Sprout.

For those who have had the good fortune of avoiding the Elf on the Shelf, it is an over-priced stuffed elf that comes with a book. The main idea is that the Elf is a spy for Santa who watches the kids all day and reports back every night. Each morning, the parent puts the Elf in a different place, some of which involve increasingly complicated scenarios. While I normally love toys that come with books, the only thing the Elf on the Shelf is good for are these hilarious photos that reveal the Elf in some very compromised situations.

Why I Will Never Buy Elf on the Shelf-4

Sprout isn’t old enough to even know about the Elf on the Shelf, much less ask for it, but this why I’m going to say “no” if he ever does:

It turns December into one long waiting period for presents.
While this is rather inevitable for kids, the very presence of the Elf as Santa’s substitute reinforces it every morning. Instead, I want to share the religious idea of Advent with Sprout, where the pre-Christmas season is about serving others as you wait on a holy and magical event. (Jesus being born, not Santa.) To communicate this message, I plan on having an Advent calendar with Sprout, like when I was a kid. While he’s too young to do it yet, with just a bit of brainstorming I came up with more than 20 ideas that were either family activities (cutting down the tree, going to a Christmas play) or provided some type of service to others (helping with our church’s mitten drive, buying a Tys for Tots gift).

It reinforces the idea that “good” girls and boys get toys while “bad” ones don’t.
Although it seems like a harmless way to get kids to behave, this message can be pretty toxic. Eventually, kids will find out that their parents are Santa. They’ll either feel betrayed that their parents were manipulating them or internalize the message that if they’re “good,” they’ll get rewarded with material things. This attitude results in entitled brats that may end up very disappointed in the “real world.” This message also implies that kids who don’t have as many gifts (or didn’t receive any at all) are “bad.” It’s the kid version of the Just World Fallacy, which says if someone is poor or has bad things happen to them, they did something to deserve it. Poor kids face enough embarrassment when everyone is talking about what they received at Christmas and they have nothing to show off. Often, they’re already labeled as “bad” whether they did anything to earn that label or not. We don’t need to add to their burden by equating – even unintentionally – not receiving a wealth of gifts with naughty behavior.

It makes your home into a surveillance state.
Honestly, the Elf on the Shelf is freaking creepy. Besides its Uncanny Valley look, it’s also supposed to be a little spy in your house. Our lives are under enough surveillance, between the NSA (in America), closed-camera TVs, and Internet giants compiling data about us. We don’t need little pretend dolls to follow our children’s every move, even if it’s just imaginary. And I’m not the only one who thinks this – a Canadian digital technology professor just published a paper entitled Who’s the Boss? saying it teaches “young people to blindly accept panoptic surveillance.” From a parenting point of view, it’s another way society demonstrates that it doesn’t trust children. It says (in a lighthearted way, of course) that children need to be watched at all times to ensure obedience and punished if they screw up.

Before you respond, ” Why are you making such a big deal about this? It’s just a toy,” I ask you to take a good, hard look into your Elf on the Shelf’s beady little eyes and tell me that you entirely trust him. Yeah, I didn’t think so. Elves are traditionally dangerous mischief-makers that people didn’t want in their homes. Perhaps we should go back to that perspective.

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6 Responses to Why I Will Never Buy Elf on the Shelf

  1. Yes! Thank you! I hate that freaking little thing. I have one that was sold with a perfume about 50-60 years ago, and it always hung on my grandma’s tree. He looks exactly like all the newer ones, and I keep it out, year round, because I like him and he has sentimental value. But he’s not mobile. I have a hard enough time with the Santa story, I can’t do another even more blatant lie. My kids do ask why we don’t have one (all their friends do) and I kind of stumble around it. But I don’t like the whole idea, or what it stands for.

  2. rootchopper says:

    I recall the lead up to Christmas as a very solemn time when I was in grade school. There were all kinds of lessons and ceremonies at my Catholic school/church that I took very seriously. We’d watch our cousin on TV saying Mass in Bethlehem on Christmas eve then go to midnight Mass which was packed with people suffocating in their winter coats. We’d go back home, open a present, eat a cookie, and go off to bed. (Then Mom and Dad would somehow find the energy to bring out Santa’s gifts.)

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