I wrote about Elf on the Shelf back in December 2018. For anyone unfamiliar, this is a tradition that stems from a children’s book written in 2005. Parents place an Elf around the house the month prior to Christmas who is supposedly doing reconnaissance for Santa Claus. Somehow it became an Instagram opportunity to one up your friends and family about who can stage the Elf performing the cleverest prank instead. Back in 2018 I said, “I think this a fun tradition and if I had the energy, I’d do it,” and then made up some bs excuse about not being inventive enough to come up with ideas for the elves each year. That was a lie. I don’t Elf on the Shelf because I don’t want to and I never have. I don’t know why I told you I did, I must’ve wanted you to like me. I’m not alone. Parents spoke to Yahoo Life about why they don’t do Elf on the Shelf. Only their reasons are a lot deeper than mine, like they feel it’s wrong to use “a spying elf as a behavior management tool” and the fear of eroding trust with the child when they learn the Elf isn’t real.
About a month before Christmas, many children find a new resident in their home: an Elf on the Shelf. By day, the small creatures spend their time watching how children behave. By night, elves fly back to the North Pole to deliver a report, only to return the next morning to resume their watch from a different spot.
Some parents take the tradition to the extreme, spending hours planning how to present their elf each morning and executing their plans every night after their children go to bed.
But other parents resist the idea of the elf entirely, with some citing concerns about using a spying elf as a behavior management tool.
“I don’t love that [my son] would feel he is being evaluated every second of every day,” mom Taylor Bealtells Yahoo Life. “He doesn’t have to perform for us to celebrate the magic of Christmas.”
A key component of the Elf on the Shelf story is that children believe they will get better presents if the elf delivers a good report to Santa. Traci Williams, a board-certified child and family psychologist, says she’s concerned that when elves are used to control a child’s behavior, parents engage in empty threats. They often tell their children that if the elf doesn’t deliver a good report Santa won’t bring them gifts, which never happens. Moreover, the elf is only around for a month so parents need to develop other ways to reinforce good behavior the rest of the year, creating inconsistency. Children may even wonder why they need to behave if the elf isn’t watching them.
Zoe Kumpfmueller has resisted the elf in part because she believes it’s important “to give our children the message that they should try to be on their best behavior all year round, rather than just in the run-up to Christmas.”
Though Williams loves the holidays and believes that family traditions are important, she warns that leaning on a made-up story to control one’s kids “may erode trust and the child might wonder what else you were lying about.” Asking children to accept the elf without question also discourages children to think critically at a time when parents should be encouraging this essential skill.
Another aspect of the Elf on the Shelf tradition she and other moms who spoke to Yahoo Life object to is the great lengths many parents go to create elaborate, Instagram-worthy displays, many of which require pricey props. Parent Sally Allsop warns that over-the-top elfing might not go as expected since it’s hard to stop. “Friends of mine have started it and regretted it.” Another danger according to Allsop: “One [friend] even said her child was getting up at 4 a.m. to see where the elf was.”
These elves are literally an extension of the Santa Claus myth so how is their story different? Santa sees us when we’re sleeping. He’s knows when we’re awake. The implication was Santa could see us all the time and that’s how he made his infamous list. I haven’t read the Elf book but isn’t it just an explanation of how he had eyes on the ground? Almost all the arguments made above against the elves can be made against Santa. Granted I’ll never win any parenting awards, but I absolutely used Santa Claus to my advantage, “Don’t make me call Santa.” “You know Santa can see you, right?” “This close to Christmas, really?” The same goes for the ‘lying’ part, eventually they will find out the truth about Santa, I assume. And the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy and any other childhood invention we told them about. There are parents who feel you shouldn’t tell kids these stories for this very reason, like Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard, and that’s fine. But you can’t single the Elves out.
The article also addressed the peer pressure of Elfing. That’s more relatable, for me at least. I would smash my head into a wall if I had to come up with Elf pranks every day for three weeks before Christmas every year. And my kids would absolutely be the ones up at 4AM looking for the little bastard. One of the moms interviewed sounded just the slightest bit bitter at seeing the lengths her friends go to on these things. I imagine competition to out-Elf each other is fierce. One mom said she said no to the Elf. She told her son, who wanted to know why all the other kids got visited and he didn’t, that he was already so well behaved, he didn’t need one. She thought she was quite cunning, boosting his confidence and all. But you know he rubbed that in the other kids faces at school (after Christmas, of course. When Santa wasn’t watching).