The Elf On The Shelf Is Turning Kids Into Privacy-Hating Followers

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elf on the shelf floatI fall squarely into the ‘Elf on the Shelf is creepy‘ camp, and this new Washington Post report totally validates my beliefs in a way that will make me incredibly insufferable. So, apologies in advance for saying “I told you so.” According to Laura Pinto, a Professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, that precious little elf you love to pose doing wacky things actually “teaches the child to accept an external form of non-familial surveillance in the home when the elf becomes the source of power and judgment, based on a set of rules attributable to Santa Claus. Children potentially cater to The Elf on the Shelf as the ‘other,’ rather than engaging in and honing understandings of social relationships with peers, parents, teachers and ‘real life’ others.”

In other words: your kid is making choices motivated not by human connection but because he/she is afraid of being judged by that weirdo elf peering out at him from the cookie jar. And it’s teaching children to be totally okay with being constantly monitored and watched 24/7. Police state here we come!

Pinto’s paper is titled Who’s The Boss, and it’s a fascinating look at some of the criticism that’s accompanied Elf on the Shelf over the years. She says that, “by inviting The Elf on the Shelf simultaneously into their play-world and real lives, children are taught to accept or even seek out external observation of their actions outside of their caregivers and familial structures,” adding that “it contributes to the shaping of children as governable subjects.”

The piece comes at an interesting time, aligning perfectly with the enormous hacking attack on Sony Pictures. It’s a huge breach of privacy, and one that might arguably seem acceptable to the growing army of kids trained by Elf on the Shelf to love having no privacy at all.

Pinto asks: “When parents and teachers bring The Elf on the Shelf into homes and classrooms, are they preparing a generation of children to accept, not question, increasingly intrusive (albeit whimsically packaged) modes of surveillance?”

I am totally nodding my head yes here, because: duh, of course they are. But it’s also teaching them about the spirit of magic, joy, and the holidays. Judging from my Elf-packed Instagram feed, it’s also teaching parents that too. I may loathe Elf on the Shelf and find its message incredibly problematic, but I can also admit that it looks like a crapload of fun for all involved. And if it’s making our kids okay with surveillance, well, then I guess they won’t mind when we read their diaries when they’re 12.

(Photo: Shutterstock)