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Elf on the Shelf, Deviance, and Social Control

Elf on the shelf is a very popular character during Christmas time. Parents buy their children elves for Christmas and the idea is that the elves spy on the children and report back to Santa at night. When the elf returns, he or she takes up a new position in the house and starts a new day of spying on the children. There is also a game parents play with their children. The rules of the game go as such: he or she needs a name, the elf arrives when they want, he or she moves whenever they want, he or she watches the kids all day, etc.


Parents use this time as an opportunity to “control” their children. They grow a dependence on the elf and Santa to discipline, scold, and punish the children. By placing the elf where he or she can always see him, the child believes that Santa is watching them and if they don’t behave, they won’t be getting any presents. Not only do these elves watch the children, they also get into some mischief of their own. Parents are in charge of creating the elves as deviant so that children recognize that the elf is “being silly” and not misbehave themselves. The elves sole purpose is to control children through fear.


For children who struggle with discipline, this is a perfect chance for parents to teach their kids right from wrong. However, the idea of elf on the shelf should be used as an incentive and not as a reason to behave properly. Parents are using the excuse of Christmas time and Santa to start teaching their kids when these parents should be disciplining their children the whole year.


Each Christmas time, the elves become these deviant “individuals” who force control on the households they are watching. Elf on the shelf is a form of social control. When a child sees the elf, they immediately behave as best as they can. The minute the elf isn’t around, the child knows he or she can do what they want because the elf isn’t watching and reporting back to Santa. This is the biggest form of social control that exists in our culture, especially those who celebrate Christmas and partake in elf mischief.


Christmas season is also the only time of year it is acceptable for parents to threaten their children with the elf and a possibility of no presents and no visit from Santa. The problem arises after Christmas. On December 26th, the elf is gone. This “parenting” tool is no longer effective and it had sent their children wrong messages about proper discipline and control. The child is no longer concerned with the elf watching them nor are they concerned with behaving. All of a sudden children do not need to control themselves, they can act out. Santa and the elves are no longer watching and parents have instilled in their children to behave only when Santa and the elves are watching.



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