Ever since I first encountered an “Elf on the Shelf” at a friend’s home, I have wrestled with the alleged tendency I have to perceive serious unethical consequences in trivial matters. I have wrestled long enough: the “Elf on the Shelf” is an unethical addition to a child’s home, and parents should think long and hard before subjecting their children to its sinister influence.
If you have been lucky enough to avoid this relatively new addition to American holiday traditions, here is what is going on, right from the Elf on the Shelf website, where you can buy these small KGB agents in pajamas:
“The Elf on the Shelf® is a special scout elf sent from the North Pole to help Santa Claus manage his naughty and nice lists. When a family adopts an elf and gives it a name, the elf receives its Christmas magic and can fly to the North Pole each night to tell Santa Claus about all of the day’s adventures. Each morning, the elf returns to its family and perches in a different place to watch the fun. Children love to wake up and race around the house looking for their elf each morning. There are two simple rules that every child knows when it comes to having an elf. First, an elf cannot be touched; Christmas magic is very fragile and if an elf is touched it may lose that magic and be unable to fly back to the North Pole. Second, an elf cannot speak or move while anyone in the house is awake! An elf’s job is to watch and listen. Elves typically appear in their families’ homes at the beginning of the holiday season (around Thanksgiving in the U.S.). On Christmas Eve, the elves return to the North Pole with Santa Claus–until next year!”
The creepiest part of the Santa Claus tradition has always been the suggestion that St. Nick is spying on kids the year round, and will take retributive action against the children he judges as “bad.” My parents never passed along that part, which exploits Santa for fear-based social control ( a non ethical consideration-based strategy) as well as rationalizing third party incursions on personal privacy. I remember being alarmed, as a child, the first time I paid attention to the lyrics of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and asked my father if it was true that I was being watched by some old perv while I was sleeping or awake. He said, “It’s just a song. That’s Gene Autrey’s theory.” The Marshalls were Roy Rogers fans, so the explanation was persuasive.
A mother-daughter team, however, decided to extrapolate from Gene’s idea and devise the means by which Santa handled his surveillance, and their invention, launched as a children’s book, caught on. Now the tiny spies are everywhere, and, we are told, kids love their magic elves, and parents love surprising the kiddies by finding new places to put them each morning leading up to Christmas.
Yes, well, Winston loved Big Brother by the end of “1984,” too. Parents, especially in this day of NSA incursions on every aspect of our private communications, need to teach their children to guard their privacy and cherish it, and also to be wary of authority figures who deputize underlings to watch them and report back to superiors, with negative consequences if what they report is deemed wrong or inappropriate by someone in power. The Elf on the Shelf teaches children to surrender their privacy to Big Brother At The North Pole, and like it.
I don’t care if the tradition is fun, and neither should responsible parents.
It’s bad for society, and dangerous.
It is wrong.