Mankind is a creature of habit and tradition, particularly around the holidays.
While we may all differ in religious and cultural backgrounds, the one common denominator we share is how much we value family traditions – whether it be going to a particular church every Christmas Eve or using an old family recipe to stuff the turkey on Thanksgiving.
One of the more popular traditions these days is Elf on the Shelf – a children’s book (and subsequently an actual doll) that was created in 2004 and has since become a household tradition among many families who celebrate Christmas.
If you aren’t familiar with how Elf on The Shelf works, here are the cliff notes:
It’s a story about an elf that Santa recruited to watch over your children at night, then report back to him in the morning with how your child behaved. The book is accompanied by an elf figurine that parents hide around the house at night, only to be discovered in funny or cute poses by your kids in the morning. The entire premise is to get your children excited and prepared for Christmas and Santa’s arrival.
Oh yeah, and it’s also designed to TOTALLY manipulate your kids into behaving for those few weeks leading up to Christmas. That whole thing about Santa Clause only bringing presents to “nice” kids? Yeah, that most definitely was created by a parent, desperate for a tactic to get their child to behave.
Elf on the Shelf just takes that idea to a whole new level. And, as a parent to a toddler, I’m actually totally fine with this questionable parenting tactic. It works like a charm. But for some people (like Laura Pinto and Selena Nemorin), Elf on the Shelf takes behavioral manipulation to a State level that sounds like something straight out of a George Orwell novel.
Addressed in their essay, Who’s The Boss, Pinto and Nemorin argue that the concept of Elf on the Shelf perpetuates and nurtures blind acceptance to a “police-like state.” While such an extreme analysis of a Christmas childhood tradition seems absurd on the surface, it makes perfect sense on a deeper, more philosophical level.
Elf on the Shelf normalizes an existence in which people are always being watched, then rewarded or penalized based on their behavior. It symbolizes a society in which “big brother” is continually monitoring your every move, watching you through hidden cameras on your computer, on the street, in the workplace, even in the privacy of your bedroom.
And, while most kids can barely spell the words “government” or “police state” (much less understand the concepts), one has to wonder if traditions like this one help create patterns of submission and blind acceptance.
While Americans have polarizing views on topics like immigration, women’s rights, and taxes, nearly all of us would agree that no government should have the right to invade your home, monitor your actions, then penalize you if they didn’t like your behavior. But that’s exactly what Elf on the Shelf teaches.
Does that mean you should forgo this Christmas tradition? Of course not! Especially if it brings joy to your children’s lives. But maybe tweak the storyline to not suggest the Elf is spying on them.