Is Elf on the Shelf spoiling magic of Christmas?

Parents are deeply divided about the merits of the Elf on the Shelf, a popular children’s book and toy set. While some love the scout elf who watches over children and relays their naughty and nice behaviour to Santa Claus, others point to the work involved in keeping up the holiday hoax, or say they resent the social media pressure to up the ante on the elf’s antics during an already busy time of year.

But a London, Ont. parenting educator say the real problem with the Elf on the Shelf is more serious.

Andrea Nair, a psychotherapist at the Core Family Health Centre, said parents should think twice about introducing the toy as a holiday tradition because of the message it sends.

“It (elf) is being marketed as a child behaviour spy that watches the children and goes back and tells Santa if they’ve been naughty and nice. I’m really upset about that,” said Nair, who felt so strongly about the toy that she outlined her “serious concerns” in a post on her website.

She pointed to a statement on the Marietta, Ga.-based company’s website, which reads: “Have you ever wondered how Santa knows who is naughty and who is nice? The Elf on the Shelf® — A Christmas Tradition is the very special tool that helps Santa know who to put on the Naughty and Nice list.”

“It’s the whole aspect where the elf is watching the child in their private (space) and going back to Santa and telling Santa all that they’ve done. And the parents may be using that tool inappropriately by saying, ‘oh, the elf is going to go back and tell Santa how naughty you’ve been today,’” Nair said.

“I don’t want the elf to be used as a threat. ‘If you’re naughty, Santa’s going to know, that elf is going to go back and tell on you.’ It’s a Santa tattletale. All the stuff we’re trying to do to get away from threats and punishment and ‘bad girl’ and ‘good girl,’ it’s not helped by the marketing being used for this product,” said Nair, who’s a certified counsellor through the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.

“We really need to consider the child’s perspective. Would you want to be watched 24/7 and know that somebody’s judging everything that you’re doing and reporting back to the decider of Christmas presents?” Nair added.

Elf on the Shelf was created in 2005 by Carol Aebersold and her daughter, Chanda Bell, as a children’s picture book, with an accompanying “elf,” which appears in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Parents can register the elf’s name with the company, get a letter of certification and get ready updates from the company.

The product sells well in Canada, said BookNet Canada spokesperson Samantha Francis, noting the female version of the Elf on the Shelf was the fifth bestselling “book product” in the nation last week.

It also sells well at Indigo bookstores and at indigo.ca, said spokesperson Lisa Huie, who would not release sales figures but called it a “bestseller.”

Laura DeGroot, who also lives in London, Ont., said her 5-year-old son, Spencer, loves his elf, which he named Bob, and she doesn’t agree with Nair’s assessment.

“I think it’s a positive thing. I think it’s fun because he (Spencer) gets excited, especially when Bob arrives. He usually arrives a month before Christmas,” DeGroot said.

“We don’t use (the elf) to threaten him or anything, like ‘oh Bob’s watching, make sure you’re being nice to your little brother.’ We use (the elf) in the same way that Santa’s watching, but he (elf) is going to the North Pole to talk to Santa,” DeGroot said.

“I know lots of people that have it and they all feel the same way. I thought it (the idea) was genius, whoever thought of it,” she added.

A spokesperson for the Elf on the Shelf was not available for comment.

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