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Being Good for Goodness Sake

When it comes to Santa, should kids behave just because Santa is watching?

About a week before Christmas last year, I thought I’d be clever and warn Gracie that “Santa is watching you” if she took a toy from Liam or refused to clean up her toys.

This move worked for all of three days. Initially, the warning would stop Gracie in her tracks. But soon, it went unheeded, as Gracie is, shall we say, head-strong.

It was while she was throwing crayons one afternoon last year that I had a flash of brilliance: Why should I encourage her to be good for Santa? Shouldn’t she be good for goodness sake, as noted in the song “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”?

And besides, “Santa’s watching” loses its power in the middle of summer, and after about the 10th time you’ve said it in a day. Ask me how I know.

This is why I hate and resent the Elf on the Shelf, one of which was given to my children earlier this year. The Elf works like this: A little toy elf watches over the children in the household, then reports back to Santa in the North Pole every night if anyone was especially naughty or nice.

I’m not alone in my hatred of the figurine, with many columnists and calling it a “preparation for living in a surveillance state.”

I don’t like that my children should think that someone is watching over them and reporting on their behavior, and I especially hate the implication of getting gifts taken away if they’ve been naughty. The reverse is true, too; I don’t want my kids to think they should be good just to get a reward, be it a present or a treat.

My children will receive gifts from Santa because he wants to give them gifts. And for the record, Gracie and Liam have been angels all year.

There’s also the creepiness factor: Hey, kids! Some strange guy is coming to our house to watch you, then report back to Santa. You better be nice to him, or you won’t get any toys. That’s not exactly a lesson I want to teach my children.

I also resent how slick it looks. The Elf can be purchased with a DVD and a book, and it's already marketed as the best thing since the Night Before Christmas. This from a book that was self-published all of six years ago. Let's slow down a bit and see if this toy actually stands the test of time before considering it a classic, OK?

For now, the Elf travels around the kitchen, at one point making his way to the kids’ play kitchen set. Gracie looks at him with no more interest than she would a dust bunny, and Liam couldn’t care less. I’ve tried a different tactic: Be nice, just to be nice. And so far, it’s worked.

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