Prof: ‘Elf on the Shelf’ conditions kids to accept surveillance state

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c2f7a200f8c59e95a9df15bfc6082946TORONTO – Could there be some­thing more sin­is­ter behind the lit­tle elf sit­ting on the shelf who returns to the North Pole each night?

Yes, says Lau­ra Pin­to, a dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ontario Insti­tute of Technology.

She recent­ly pub­lished a paper titled “Who’s the Boss” on the doll, say­ing the idea of it report­ing back to San­ta each night on the child’s behav­ior “sets up chil­dren for dan­ger­ous, uncrit­i­cal accep­tance of pow­er struc­tures,” accord­ing to

From her paper:

When chil­dren enter the play world of The Elf on the Shelf, they accept a series of prac­tices and rules asso­ci­at­ed with the larg­er sto­ry. This, of course, is not unique to The Elf on the Shelf. Many children’s games, includ­ing board games and video games, require chil­dren to par­tic­i­pate while fol­low­ing a pre­scribed set of rules. The dif­fer­ence, how­ev­er, is that in oth­er games, the child role-plays a char­ac­ter, or the child imag­ines her­self with­in a play-world of the game, but the role play does not enter the child’s real world as part of the game. As well, in most games, the time of play is delin­eat­ed (while the game goes on), and the play to which the rules apply typ­i­cal­ly does not over­lap with the child’s real world.

You’re teach­ing (kids) a big­ger les­son, which is that it’s OK for oth­er peo­ple to spy on you and you’re not enti­tled to pri­va­cy,” she tells the Toron­to Star.

She calls the elf “an exter­nal form of non-famil­ial sur­veil­lance,” and says it’s poten­tial­ly con­di­tion­ing chil­dren to accept the state act­ing that way, too.

If you grow up think­ing it’s cool for the elves to watch me and report back to San­ta, well, then it’s cool for the NSA to watch me and report back to the gov­ern­ment,” accord­ing to Pinto.

Oth­ers con­cur with Pinto’s theory.

It’s a lit­tle creepy, this idea that this elf is watch­ing you all the time,” Emma Waver­man, a blog­ger with Today’s Par­ent, tells the paper. She also doesn’t like that the sto­ry uses a threat – “nice” and “naughty” lists – to pro­duce good behavior.

It makes the moti­va­tion to behave some­thing that’s exter­nal,” she says. “If I’m not around or if the elf is not around, do they act crazy?”

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,” Pin­to writes.

It’s worth not­ing that Pin­to doesn’t object to the Elf on the Shelf’s Jew­ish coun­ter­part, the Men­sch on a Bench, which she char­ac­ter­ized as ‘benign.’ Unlike the elf, the men­sch doesn’t report to any­one at night but stays put, watch­ing over the Hanukkah meno­rah,” the paper reports.

Accord­ing to the paper, 6 mil­lion “Elf on the Shelf” dolls and books have been sold in the last 8 years.