The Big Reason The Elf on the Shelf is a Bad Idea

A few weeks ago, my ten-year-old daughter and I were in the Kohls checkout line when we noticed her kindergarten teacher was right behind us.  After exchanging greetings, I noticed there was an Elf on the Shelf in her arms, along with some clothing.  She offered that her three-year-old son was going to be the recipient of the little elf this year.

I am not going to lie, it took all of my willpower to refrain from telling her to leave it at the store.  I held my tongue because I don’t like it when other people give me unsolicited advice, so I assume everyone else feels the same way.  After all, I myself had bought an Elf when they first became “a thing”.  Colorful Cupcake arrived at our home in 2008, when my youngest two kids were five and three-years-old.  Chances are I was at my whits end some days trying to get them to behave, so I thought this little piece of felt and plastic would be the ticket to at least a month’s worth of cooperation and good deeds.

As a matter of fact, I have to be honest and admit we actually kept up the silly farce until last year when my youngest finally understood the whole Santa/Elf part of Christmas is all based on elaborate imagination and brilliant marketing.  I think after a few years of Elf visits in our home the tradition became more of a game of “where will it show up next” rather than any real motivation for inducing good behavior.

My opposition to The Elf doesn’t have anything to do with the lengths some parents have gone to, since it’s inception, of exploiting the original know, those pictures you see on social media when elves do “naughty” things the kids wake up to each morning...though I admit this practice seems counter productive to me since (a) the parent has to clean up the mess they made, and (b) if you are trying to keep your kids from misbehaving, why would you have an elf who does things like spread flour all over your kitchen counter tops?  What part of that makes sense?

And my protest has nothing to do with parents who become stressed out (during, what is for some, an already crazy season) because at the last moment they remember they haven’t moved The Elf, and then have to make up a story to tell their kids as to why it didn’t move when it was supposed to.

My criticism isn’t even about commercialism versus celebrating a season centered in giving, acts of kindness, or the idea this activity may overshadow any religious practice during December.

The essence of my objection to The Elf on the Shelf is the idea we are modeling and teaching our children the reward of good behavior is external.  The story of The Elf on the Shelf is based on the concept The Elf reports to Santa every evening about whether the child has been good during the day or not.  Then “the news of the day makes him happy or sad”.  And, ultimately, at the end of the month, the child will receive his/her gift wish if they behave their way into Santa’s good graces.  Reading between the lines...Santa’s rewards to me [your child] are conditional.

Am I the only person who sees something very wrong with this objective?

I am going to take a big leap here and compare that simple, child-like lesson to the big scale picture of God’s love for us. Because I know there are some children in the world who tend to lump Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and God together (see this post).

And, God loves us, His children, no matter how we behave.  His love is unconditional. (Unlike Santa's, which is the core message in this book). 

However, when faith, hope and belief in Him enter our heart, the result is a natural desire to live a life filled with words and actions which reflect God’s love for each of us.  

Do we continue to make choices that lead us astray at times?  Yes.  

That's human nature, but God’s love for us will never change.

If I could go back to 2008 I would have skipped The Elf, not because of the obvious reasons stated, but because of the big picture message unconsciously received by my kids who, year-after-year, learn from so many other areas of their life (school and sports activities being just two of them) that the rewards of life are earned on a superficial level.

I want my children's behavior to reflect their individual nature and their internal desire to share with others the unconditional love they receive everyday.

Elf or no Elf, from my heart to yours, I pray your holiday season is filled with the giving and receiving of kindness, tolerance, stillness, and meaningful connection with family, friends, and strangers who cross your path.