- - Monday, December 15, 2014


John and Lisa Henderson of Hurricane, Utah, finally had enough. Their three sons — ages 11, 8 and 5 — seemed ungrateful for their good life. It’s a common plaint of parents in a land of plenty that sometimes seems to be the land of too much.

John and I feel like we are fighting a very hard uphill battle with our kids when it comes to entitlement,” Mrs. Henderson wrote on her blog called Over the Big Moon. “It is one of the biggest struggles as a parent these days in middle-class America. Our kids have been acting so ungrateful lately [that] John said, ‘We should just cancel Christmas.’ And so, that’s what we did.”

The blogosphere response to the story, as reported by the London Daily Mail, was immediate and ferocious, with incoming fire from both sides. But it was mild compared with the noise over “Elf on the Shelf,” a book and attendant toy that, like a nanny cam, watches children. And judges them. And rats them out to Santa. The book, published in 2005, is a best-seller (6 million copies sold). A “digital technology professor” at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology puts forward the thesis that the toy, like the National Security Agency, invades the privacy of children and teaches them wrong lessons.

“The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition,” as it describes itself, “is a cleverly rhymed children’s book explaining the story of Santa’s ‘scout elves,’ who are sent to be Santa’s eyes and ears at children’s homes around the world [exclamation point deleted]. Adopt your own scout elf and learn the tale of Santa’s finest helpers. The whole family will enjoy this Christmas tradition.” Well, perhaps not all. Ask around in the nursery. A special scout elf is dispatched from the North Pole to help Santa Claus manage his lists of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.

When a family adopts a scout elf and gives it a name, the scout elf flies to the North Pole every night to tell Santa about all of the day’s adventures. Every morning, the scout elf returns to its family and perches in a different place to watch the fun. “Children love to wake up and race around the house looking for their scout elf each morning.”

There are rules that come with the toy, one is that it must not be touched or it will lose its magic. Mom and Dad, since they own the little intruder, “are free to move it around the house in order to best position it for adequate surveillance.”

The sneak on the shelf is no doubt creepy to the kids. But there’s something creepy, too, about the high dudgeon coming from one Ms. Pinto, who adds a comment on the Web that the toy “sets up children for dangerous, uncritical acceptance of power structures.” Her views are echoed by other earnest critics including The Atlantic magazine and The Washington Post.

The Hendersons in Utah are putting the money they would have spent to various charities and service projects to teach their children the rewards of giving, illustrating the biblical lesson that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” Another lesson of the season is that, even if you work for the NSA, it’s not nice to buy toys to spy on your kids. Santa, who keeps his own list, has demonstrated for years that he doesn’t need help.

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