Now that the fat man has crossed the Herald Square threshold it’s the time of year for another fantastical creature to makes it’s mark on the lives of children, and, no it’s not suddenly popular Krampus.
It’s the fucking Elf on a Shelf. Because nothing says, “I love my child” like teaching them to fear the spying eye of a yule tide version of 1984.
It was one thing when children thought Santa Clause was making a list and checking it twice from afar to decide who got gifts and who received coal but this fresh modern take on the nanny cam era that makes the appearance of the Elf daunting in a whole new way.
The whole lie is perpetrated under the guise that this Elf is some part of the traditional holiday mythology rather than the commercialistic scam it is. The Elf on the Shelf story was created in 2004 by Carol Aebersold and her daughters based on their interpretation of their family tradition and they sold a commercialized version of their homespun nostalgia it en masse. Insecure parents bought into it not because it serves any proven psychological purpose in childhood development but because they were too busy, to lazy, to self-absorbed themselves to properly motivate good behavior from their children and wanted the quick and easy way out by just buying it instead. Retailers loved the idea because it would produce more consumerism as every good act could potentially warrant increased gift giving.
The effect is multifold and more frightening than just the eerie facade of the elf itself which is why there will never be one in our household. While we fully intend on sharing any number of myths and legends as part of cultivating the imagination of your young one the elf will find no home with us.
First, the Elf’s ever-presence influences children’s actions through paranoia rather than cultivating a healthy understanding of right and wrong through natural action and consequence. Living in a constant state of paranoia already is an affliction a certain portion of humanity negatively suffers from I don’t want to contribute that to an impressionable youth I’m charged in caring for
Typically, without the aid of the Elf, children understand right from wrong as good behavior is the default state of being while the punishable state is that of being bad behavior. They associate bad behavior with negative consequences while good behavior is associated with this is how everyone just acts normally. Thus good behavior is just what you do.
The Elf in it’s physical manifestation of omnipotence flips the script. The Elf still punishes children for being bad by witholding gifts same as a parent normally would, or the idea of Santa’s naughty list, or even with God themselves with the threat of going to hell but there’s an extra emphasis that then comes with the reward for doing good in front of the Elf.
This teaches good behavior is not the default behavior but that good is some exception which they will garner a reward for achieving. Some other behavior then is perceived as the default behavior. Thus, good behavior is only achieved by reward and not because it’s the acceptable way to act in the first place.
In some ways this idea takes the whole “participation medal” syndrome to an entirely new level. When the default behavior is suddenly the rewarded one it diminishes the behavior from being the default. The flipped script goes from if you’re bad you get nothing to that if you don’t do good you will get nothing. If you do good, which is supposed to be the default behavior then you get something special.
What this ends up teaching some kids is to consider, “Why be good normally if you know you can get something extra for good becoming the exception rather then the rule?”
Furthermore, although it’s not the traditional concept of bullying, the entire process is threat based. And, the threat is ever present. The Elf is always visible. Always around. It’s lurking on the shelf diligently watching every move.
It certainly can have many of the same psychological effects of bullying since the living in fear of the Elf’s constant glare can undermine individual self-worth. Any little bad thing not only results in the normal perception of punishment but the double-whammy of not getting something special for behaving well.
Which in turn teaches children they exist in a police state. Police state’s exercise authority in oppressive manners and thus it undermines the respect individuals would normally have for those in positions of authority. It makes them distrusting and fearful of authority.
While I’m all for a healthy does of skepticism of authoritarian ideas there is a proper place for authority in society and I don’t just mean within the context of law enforcement or government either. If at a young age you’re taught to fear authority from a behavioral level it can cascade for some people to their perception of other authoritarian figures like teachers, scholars, scientists and a fear of the knowledge that comes with their expertise since they are in charge of the facts and ideas. The inherent distrust then goes back to the problem of cultivating paranoia overall.
The Elf may come to make youngersters feel trapped by their environment and thus limits their interactions with it. They can become more apt to “stick to the script” in order to be rewarded for the expected behavior rather than experiment and find their own individuality. The Elf programmatically seeks to indoctonerate them to only a narrow interpretation of behaviors in a very stark sort of way. There’s less room for interpretation of the shades of grey that the human condition actually exists in when there’s only one set of behaviors in which to achieve the award.
I wouldn’t go so far as calling it propaganda but it’s definitely a wiley form of mind control to trick one’s child into thinking that select good behavior equals gifts in such a peering over-the-shoulder sort of affair.
I do not like elf on a shelf
It does not make for a better self
Big brother watching from near and afar
Striking fear but behavior remains sub-par.
And the last part of my little poem really I think says it all. The actual underlying behavior isn’t changed for the better. Children still act out. They still break the rules. They still push the boundaries. Because, that’s what children naturally do as they grow with the human condition. It isn’t reducing the negative experiences in actuality but it is undermining the valuation of the positive ones by perpetuating a pavlovian response to do good rather than creating scenarios where just doing good is the expected norm.