The Inherent Dangers of Elf on the Shelf

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It started in 2005, not really the “Tradition” that Bing Crosby is.

If you’re like me, then the holidays are a time of elaborate decoration, gift-giving and the hidden look of disappointment in your parents’ eyes as they come to terms with another season that you’ve stood by your decision not to have children. Luckily for my parents, my younger sister has two little boys that love Christmas! My parents adore them and my sister and her husband are heavily involved in their lives and forming nostalgic memories for them to look back fondly on.  One of the “traditions” that my sister introduced is the Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition.

For those of you who aren’t in the know as I was not, Elf on the Shelf is a posable elf doll and accompanying book that outlines what this little elf means for the children of the house. The book goes on to tell the children to whom it is read that EOTS is Santa’s eyes and ears. EOTS will position himself in a spot in the house (hence the ability to wrap his spindly little arms and legs around stuff in the house) and, if he spots you being good, then he sprints up to the North Pole during the night, lets the Big Man know that you should be on the Nice List and then hauls ass back to your house to situate himself in a different spot to begin his silent, spying vigil anew. The main rule in the book is that children MUST keep their damn, stinking paws off the elf. They can’t touch the elf or his magic might disappear and he would be driven to life on the streets, most likely killed by an outdoor cat who would first bat him around as a plaything, further removing his magic and ultimately his will to live.

It is a terrible idea to buy this for your children. Here’s the three reasons why.

#3:  You’re asking for your child to develop a complex.

So, you’ve decided that an inanimate bendy doll is the best way to manage your child’s behavior through the promise of rewards. Now your child always has one eye on the smiling little elf that you’ve sat on the china hutch or cleverly hung from the chandelier. He or she does his or her best to always behave, not throw a fit, play nice with their sibling, share their toys and wakes up every morning, anxiously running to the spot where the elf was monitoring the night before. Relieved, the child sees that the elf has run up North and reported their good behavior! Now the child must make it their life’s priority to search out where you’ve devilishly hidden the elf. Your sweet, behaving child cannot rest until they learn where the elf is so that they can make sure that it is in a different spot tomorrow and the game can begin again.

If this were an adult, we would label it extreme paranoia or obsessive compulsive disorder. Do you really want your child to become frantic about finding and pleasing a doll?  And, let’s not forget that you have to be obsessive about this as well, because this is the main reinforcement that your child has now to behave.  However, it should be pointed out that…

 #2: You’re encouraging bad behavior.

If you’re diligent and move the elf every night, you can rest assured that your beautiful snowflake is encouraged to be good and listen to mommy and daddy. But, let’s say that the child does something naughty and he knows it.  He knows he’s been bad, but the next morning, the elf has moved!  The elf didn’t see!  What else can he get away with?  Or, does this mean that what the child considered to be “bad” is not bad at all?  Maybe it is condoned, nay, encouraged by Santa! Eh-gads, man!  Do you know what this means?  We can do anything we want!  As long as the elf moves, then it doesn’t matter what Mom and Dad say!

So, maybe they won’t take it that far, but let’s say that your child does misbehave and the elf doesn’t move. How long can you hold out this game?  Really?  Are you going to keep leaving the elf where it is until the child turns around and changes their ways?  If so, are you willing to deprive them of gifts at Christmas or are you going to continue just as you would have even if you hadn’t had the elf in the first place? 

And what if your child really does start behaving if the elf stays where he is? They are good all day, but it was a long day at work, you’re tired, maybe had a glass of wine after putting junior to bed and the next morning, the stream of questions reminds you of something you didn’t do.

#1 You’re going to forget.

Back to my sister.  This is her experience with Elf on the Shelf in her actual Facebook feed.

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Two days.  She lasted TWO DAYS!  My sister’s no dummy and she lasted two days. This means that she got Elf on the Shelf, showed her boys, moved it once and then forgot. 

Why set yourself up for failure?  Just give the kids some presents, sing some songs and eat a bunch of food with family.  Leave the Elf on the Shelf.

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