The Elf on the Shelf is creepy and possibly promoting a totalitarian regime

Imagine your spouse takes you out for your birthday and then brings out a laptop full of footage of your home. “I’d really like to give you a present, but my moving web cams all over the house caught you pretending you weren’t home when your in-laws were calling. Oh, and you yelled at the dog unnecessarily. And called in sick when really you just wanted to finish a season of Downton Abbey. Sorry!”

If you think that’s fair enough, then I guess Elf on the Shelf is for you.

Personally I think this strange tradition of moving an elf statue around the house to prove it’s reporting our kids’ moves to Santa is bizarre. In an age where privacy is a hot topic, why are we essentially inviting Santa’s Secret Service into our homes? In 1984 wasn’t it a bad thing that Big Brother was watching all the time? Now we buy Big Brother and put him on Pinterest every morning.

Look, I get that it’s supposed to be lighthearted. I have nothing against elves in particular, especially when they are kindness elves. (What a fantastic idea at that link from The Imagination Tree!) And I know there is a contingent of people who agree with the lyrics to “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” and are all for a Santa Claus who is a kind of police officer.

But for me and for my family, there just is no way we are creating a tradition that a creepy Elf on the Shelf comes to watch behaviour and report back to Santa. This doesn’t mesh with our parenting in several ways:

  • My husband and I try not to establish consequences we won’t follow through on. Since we’re not going to give our kids lumps of coal even if an Elf on the Shelf were to catch them doing something wrong (always a possibility over a whole month), it’s just an empty concept.
  • Santa for us is about generosity and giving, not about good behaviour. And vice versa:
  • Gifts are something you get because the giver is ready to give them, not because you were behaving well. Behaving well should be a given.
  • Privacy is something we value in our home. Not always above safety (if I were worrying about my kids’ safety, I would snoop). But if Santa cannot divine by magical means, then tough – we’re not inviting his agents into our house.

I think this is one of those traditions that should be shelved. What do you think? Do you do Elf on the Shelf? Convince me!

  • Jane1212

    I think your story is a bit ridiculous…..don’t have an Elf On The Shelf if you don’t agree with it. But, a story about a “totalitarian regime” relating to an Elf On The Shelf????

    • Jennifer Gruden

      The headline is definitely a bit tongue-in-cheek. I am amazed at how many people have started doing this though!

      • Jane1212

        We have one and it makes our daughter smile every morning when she wakes up to see where it is and what it is doing. We have not told her that the elf is watching her and reporting back to Santa. The elf is just a symbol of the season that makes the “long” wait until Christmas Day more fun. Several of her friends at school also have them and they discuss their elves “actions” each day. I think something that makes them smile and has them all talking, imagining and enjoying the spirit of the season is harmless. Kids are surrounded by violent TV shows, video games and other negative influences. I know of so many parents who are buying X Box games with the over 18 rating for their 10 and 12 year old kids. I would much prefer my 10 year old have an Elf On The Shelf than Call Of Duty.

        • Jennifer Gruden

          That sounds like a much nicer way to use them and is really nice to hear about Jane. :) I’m glad to know that. I will say I don’t think it’s a choice between Call of Duty and Elf on the Shelf.

          • Jane1212

            No, I don’t believe it is a choice between Elf on the Shelf and Call of Duty either. But, when I am talking specifically about the 10 year old kids in my daughters’ class, these are the two things that are popular right now. At 10, these kids are sitting between the fun and innocence of being a child and the curiosity of wondering what the teens and adults are doing. I want to keep my child closer to the innocence of being a child and further away from the these other things at least for now. If she still enjoys a fun and innocent Elf on the Shelf, I am happy (and so is she)!

        • suzie2k

          I agree!

        • Helen Layley

          Same here, Jane. They come (two Swedish tomtar as we live in Skåne) they move around the house, get up to mischief, help or try to help with Christmas preparations and after one week – not an entire month – they go to see Santa. They may well report on behaviour but they also report on likes/dislikes and so on. In Sweden the tomtar deliver the presents from Santa, in a neat little meshing of traditions, so our elves need to get back early in order to collect items for delivery.
          It is far more about the fun of finding the elves and what they are doing than it is about spying or invasion of privacy – they are guests in our home, here by invitation, and very much loved.
          However I would agree that the original ‘Elf on a Shelf’ is quite creepy and the rules about not being touched and reporting to Santa every night seem a little authoritarian.

    • Jennifer Gruden

      The headline is definitely a bit tongue-in-cheek. I am amazed at how many people have started doing this though!

  • Organicgirl

    My children find the whole concept creepy and have asked not to have one.

  • karengreeners

    I think there’s a way to make it a benign/inconsequential fun tradition for a little holiday anticipation, but I’m with you on not using it as a behaviour control.

  • lc

    When I told my son many years ago that Santa was watching him and he should behave if he wanted presents, he replied “now I have 2 problems God and Santa” I never said that again!!!!!!

  • Dana Cairns

    You are so stupid. Really. . Creepy depends on your parenting. Giving a child a magical imaginative adventure is what this is all about. If your a terrible parent who uses ultimatums instead of constructive parenting… then yes.. you can possibly be scaring your children. But guess what.. This approach keeps your child scared all year long. Do what you choose with your child, but do not judge parents that are not lazy and decide to bring some magic to the season that does not come from television. But promotes the creative imagination of child.

  • Millie Hatcher

    What the heck is happening to Canadian Living, it used to be a great magazine. Now its mocking Rob Ford and offering up the idea that people shouldn’t be offering a new creative, interactive tradition for their family. I really enjoy seeing the photos of what the elf got into last night. It shows that the parents are taking time out of their busy day to create fun memories for their child. Certainly you must be capable of using this toy in a way that is fun for your child without filling their heads with fear that they are being w atched. Maybe try thinking outside the cardboard box it comes in.

    • domus

      Why not…at least they are educated , unlike the voters of Robbie the baby Ford. I concur with Canadian living, the Elf is eerie ( scary to Fords allies) and inpersonal.

  • susanatruly

    I agree. Even the idea of parents using the “you’d better behave, Santa’s watching” idea is generally an empty threat, and gives no room for grace. I’m a Christian and there are many parallels between God and Santa’s nature. As God sent His Gift to the world it is not because we deserve it, it’s because he forgives us.

  • Anonymous

    Remember when we used to whisper these kinds of thoughts to our best friends and feel validated when they agreed with us? We didn’t go around telling the world what they are doing is stupid or creepy, we just said it behind their backs (lol!). Now everyone can let everyone else know just how much better they are than each other with the click of a mouse. There are ways to capitalize on the popularity of elf on the shelf to get people to read your magazine without making those who love it feel like jerks and bad parents. I think especially at this time of year we need a bit more acceptance and lot less judgement and mean-spirited bashing. Consider this, if a parent loves their kids enough to put that much time and energy into creating something magical and fun for them how bad could it be?

  • Megan_PV

    What did I just read?! “Privacy is something we value in our home…we’re not inviting his agents into our house” Wow! You realize they don’t come equipped with
    microscopic video cameras with direct feed to the North Pole, right? I think some people have way too much time to over analyze things such as a simple, fun, lighthearted family tradition like Elf on the Shelf. I don’t see any harm in taking time to participate in a fun new tradition, personally, my daughter loves it and I don’t use it as a threat or incentive
    to get my toddler to eat her dinner, be nice to her friends or listen when
    Mommy and Daddy give directions. I rely on my acquired parenting skills to
    raise my child. I also teach my daughter kindness and caring and aim to raise a
    compassionate, loving little girl. I think it’s easy to hide behind a keyboard and
    bash, criticize and spew stupidity about how better a parent you are compared
    to those who have embraced Elf on the Shelf as a new holiday tradition. So let
    me ask you, Jennifer, what are you teaching your children??

  • Linlal

    I don’t have Shelf-Elf aged children but, if I did, there would be no Elves in my house. This is a commercial gimmick that is making someone a lot of money. I think there are lots of ways to have imaginative Christmas traditions that are developed in your home. What happens when your child is poking around the basement in July and finds Elfie stuffed in a box?
    In case you’re thinking I’m a Scrooge, my daughter believed in Santa until she was 12 and was disillusioned by her 7 year old half-sister.

  • Nana Roach

    I so disagree with this article. My grandchildren have “Noddy” and they look forward to him coming to visit every year. They can’t wait to see where he will be in the morning and he has been found in the middle of a bag of smarties and another friend’s child found their Elf roasting marshmallows by the fire. No emphasis is made on “being good” it is a tradition that keeps their other Grandma alive as she gave it to them. I even look forward to finding out what “Noddy” has been up to. He is sometimes mischievous and that’s okay cause all of us can be a little mischievous at times. He is worth the look of surprise and fun on my grandchildren’s faces. Stop reading other things into it. If you look hard enough at anything you can find the worst but I thought we were supposed to be more positive than negative. I love “Noddy”.