OK, so I know that some of you are going to hate me for this post because you may well be one of the masses of people who have conformed to yet another craze in our society. If you're a fan of the Elf on the Shelf craze and promote it within your own home, you may not want to read further because I'm likely to offend, and take far too seriously, your sense of fun.
Consider yourselves warned if you proceed.
...I think the whole Elf on the Shelf craze is, well, crazy. Damaging and dangerous, even.
Now, if you're amongst the minority of our population and have never heard of this Elf on the Shelf thing, feel free to check out one of these websites for more information. Note: The first link is to the creators' website; but I find the second link (Wikipedia) more detailed in the explanation about what it's all about.
Elf on the Shelf - Wikipedia
Here are my beefs with this cute little elf who has gotten under the skins of so many otherwise-sane people:
1. It is such a money grab...Christmas commercialism at its finest. That little elf has made a few people very wealthy. Aren't we/I already suckered enough into the commercialization of Christmas?
2. It is one more (artificial and secular) tradition that quickly becomes a necessity every Christmas season, when there's already so much to do and there are so many better ways to celebrate Christmas. Aren't we already busy enough at this time of year without adding one more must-do? And if we're looking for more to do during the month of December, what about celebrating Advent on a daily basis for the weeks leading up to Christmas? What about reading more books every day during the month(s) of (November and) December: The ones that talk about what Christmas is really about; as well as the ones that have nothing to do with the meaning of Christmas but which are fun nonetheless.
3. This is the biggie for me, so much so that I'll devote the rest of my post to it. Here goes: My biggest problem with Elf on the Shelf. And I'll capture my concern by starting with a true vignette:
Just this week, on Sunday afternoon, while running a quick errand, I was standing in the aisle of a store when a mom and dad stopped just beside me. Their daughter, maybe six or seven, right around the age of my Lizzie, was sitting in the cart. The little girl sounded like she was having a rough time about some thing or another and was a little on the whiny side.
After asking her to stop whining so that they wouldn't have to go home immediately, the Mom suddenly said to her, "Listen, you need to stop that whining, and I do mean right now. Santa is going to find about this because when we get home I'm going to tell our Elf on the Shelf and you know he's going to tell Santa tonight that you've been a bad girl. And you know what happens to girls who end up on his naughty list. Do you want to be on that list? Do you want no presents this year?"
Just then the mom glanced up and saw me standing there, obviously listening. She winked at me, as if it was a given that we moms are all part of this conspiracy to alarm our children into compliance. I did not wink back...I didn't even smile. In fact, I suspect she innately captured my sense of horror because she looked away again immediately. In the next instant, the little girl started to cry and said to her parents how sorry she was and begged them to please not tell the Elf because she didn't want Santa to find out and she was tired of the Elf watching and she promised she would be good right up until Christmas so could she please still have presents.
My arms twitched from the need to pick that little thing up and give her a hug.
Really? This is the message we want our kids to receive? Don't they get (waaay more than) enough of this message already from the whole Santa myth that has most kids believing he is watching them from some far-off place without now also feeling watched every moment of every day by that elf sitting somewhere in their very own home?
I know, I know, you're probably saying here that for you and your family it's just a bunch of fun and kids don't take it so seriously. Lighten up, Ruth. Blah blah blah. The problem is that the little family I encountered on Sunday probably would have said the same kind of thing if I'd probed it further...that wink comes to mind. It's all just for fun, right??
But clearly to this young girl, it was a deadly serious issue, and whether or not Christmas will be a success completely rests on her narrow shoulders. Sadly, because she is a child with a child's not-yet-fully-wired brain, she will have no ability whatsoever to keep her promise about being good until the arrival of Christmas...truly, that would be a feat that no adult could accomplish. So either she learns that her parents were serious and that she will not receive any gifts, in which case the blame falls entirely to her; or, if she gets gifts despite the inevitable poor behaviour, she learns (at least subconsciously) that her parents lied about not intending to give her gifts and she learns not to take them seriously. Both of these are significant problems for our children.
To me, and here comes the rest of my soapbox rant, the fact that that little girl is being alarmed (for the full month before Christmas!) into trying to maintain good behaviour is reflective, frankly, of our behaviouralistic society. We (wrongly) assume that children will learn from our issuance of consequences and/or rewards and then, knowing that we're failing even at obtaining the results we want because rewards and consequences don't actually work, we resort to alarming them into compliance in a way that produces shame and guilt on the part of the child who may not be able to obey because their brain simply isn't mature enough yet.
Can you see my point? That stupid little Elf on the Shelf, which doesn't deserve capitalization but will get it nonetheless because it is a brand name, represents almost everything that I hate about how we as a society parent the next generation of parents. We sacrifice so much of our children's long term well being by issuing in-the-moment consequences and rewards and, failing even to see the benefit of that, we alarm our children into further (doomed to fail) attempts at obedience.
Now, lest you think I'm being sanctimonious here, let me assure you that, although I (along with Geoff) am striving with everything in me to parent from a developmental viewpoint, I, too, struggle with sliding into this behavioural pit that I grew up in and am surrounded by. Behavioural parenting, sadly, is the norm, and it has been for decades. I mess this up regularly, despite my best intentions. I'm a hypocrite trying really, really hard to fundamentally alter my course because it is in the best interests of my/our children.
It's completely counter culture and counter nurture for me to parent as a developmentalist and I'm a work in progress. But I can assure you of this...witnessing what I did over that stupid Elf on the Shelf cutesy tradition doubles, even quadruples, my commitment to working against the tide. That is the epitome of what I consider fatally flawed about parenting in today's society.
So, cute as he might be, as adorable as the thought is of a little elf getting himself into elf-like bits of trouble, the elf on the shelf (ahh, that felt better, to not capitalize) will not be entering this abode.
So...I'm braced...let me have it.