Elf On The Shelf is Just Giving Our Kids Anxiety
He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake—and he sounds totally creepy! Let's make the holidays less stressful by tossing Elf on the Shelf for good.
The holidays are here and for many of us, that means stress. Decorating, shopping, parties, visitors—the holidays can certainly be hard for parents. And then there’s the elf. The Elf on the Shelf, a beloved (and despised) holiday tradition gives parents one more thing to worry about over the holidays. Between staging perfect elf-y vignettes, keeping track of scenes from years past to avoid repeats, and hardest of all, remembering to move the dang thing every single night, the elf can give even the most stalwart cheer-bringer to the edge of anxiety.
And it might not be all that fun for your kids, either. They have to deal with a new house guest (and now maybe even Elf babies) whose job it is to let Santa know whether they've been naughty or nice—and that's not always all fun and games.
Depending on your child’s developmental stage, Elf on the Shelf could be downright frightening and even lead to stress. “Kids may fear that the elf is watching them without their awareness,” explains San Diego-based family therapist, Lauren Cook. In other words, the elf is a total creeper and we might be teaching our kids that it's OK for people to watch you when you don't realize they're watching.
It’s creepy enough thinking you’re being watched all the time but when the person doing the watching is a notorious tattle-tale? Recipe for even more stress! Just image having a creepy little interloper hanging out at your job for a month, watching you, and reporting back to your boss. Now imagine if you were 5 and that boss was Santa—holy paranoia, Batman!
And then there’s the whole “Big Brother is watching you” aspect. Despite what reality TV would have us believe, an eye in the sky is just plain creepy. Teaching kids that their every move, every mistake, and every misdeed is seen by an authority figure and might result in negative consequences can be hard on them.
"We do not want children to fear making mistakes," explains Cook. "Of course, we don't want to encourage them to misbehave but it's important that children have healthy learning experiences where they can learn from their missteps. If they feel like the Elf is constantly monitoring their behavior, it may induce a sense of anxiety and even perfectionism." Not to mention, it has the potential to normalize surveillance culture and set a precedent at an early age that they should have no expectation of privacy.
Dicey propositions and a lot of pressure for a young child to deal with. Maybe leaving the elf in the closet this year will help cut down on holiday stress for both you and your kid!