Elf on the Shelf- a post Christmas psychology jingle

fw_elf-4_3_r560I only recently learned what these ‘elf on the shelf’ things are but apparently they’ve been around for a few years. I want to start off by stating that they are creepy.

They just stare.

Sit there and stare.

Am I the only reminded of an episode of Goosebumps by these toys? I mean, any parent that thinks this is a good idea for any reason other than to be funny needs a therapist.

Alright, let me introduce these “toys” to you. They are used around Christmas time as a gimmick to get your child to behave. Much like the myth of Santa Claus is used to make all the little children become good little girls and boys. However, there is a twist to these toys. They watch you at all times and will report to your parents and Santa if you’ve been naughty and if you touch them then you won’t get any presents.

Before Christmas Eve I had only heard about these dolls in passing conversation and paid no mind to them because it didn’t matter to me. Then, I touched one and made a five year old go bawling to his mother because he was deathly afraid he wouldn’t get any presents this year because that’s what he was taught to believe.

I won’t go on a tangent about materialism because I don’t have the time and I’m sure you don’t have the patience.

What, I believe, parents use these toys for is much like what parents in years gone by used spankings for: a method to teach your child to behave and so he/she would see that what they did was wrong. Basic instrumental conditioning as described by the Psychologist B.F. Skinner. It’s the same thing as getting a ticket for driving too fast. So, it can be perceived as a good thing, I believe.

However, I think these toys can be harmful to the beginning stages of a child’s development because it teaches a child to be afraid, not of a bad action, but of himself internally. The need to be alone is paramount to properly developing your mind. I don’t think anyone would disagree that when you are being watched you act differently than when you are alone in your room or in your car listening to your favorite band and picking your nose. Not a lot of people will sing an entire album at the top of their lungs with someone in the car next to them but I don’t think a single person hasn’t done that driving by themselves on the interstate.

Now, if you tell a child that they are being watched at all times and they have to be perfectly good or else they won’t get anything for Christmas, what is the most likely outcome for that child? It’s true we can’t know for sure what something like that does. That requires several hundred children in the same environment, starting at the same age, told the same thing, and carefully monitored by people much more educated than myself. But, the fact still remains that when I touched that elf this particular five year old became deathly afraid of the effects of my action. Not because he had done anything, but because an outside source had done something he wasn’t supposed to.

This is only one instance that I saw and maybe it was purely the fault of the parents for teaching him that things held such a high value but where there is one more are sure to follow. I find the idea of lying to a child like that to be in poor taste anyway, but I am not a parent so I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to have a five year old. Maybe the parents need to lie to their child because he is just too much and they need an inanimate object to do their parenting for him. I suppose I will understand when I have a five year old. But that, is a long, long way away.


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