If you haven’t heard of Elf on the Shelf, you might want to take another look at Instagram.
The festive fellow is popping up in homes around the world, peeking out from behind a banana, or cheekily perched atop a pile of toilet paper.
The phenomenon started in 2005 with a children’s picture book, written by Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell, and illustrated by Coë Steinwart.
The book tells a story about special scout elves who are adopted by families and report back to Santa each night about who is naughty and who is nice. An elf doll is included with the book, and you can register the ‘adoption’ online.
Children are told that there are two simple rules to owning a Scout Elf. First, a Scout Elf cannot be touched; and second, a Scout Elf cannot speak or move while anyone in the house is awake. So when the children wake up each morning before Christmas, they are surprised to discover that the elf has popped up in a different place.
More than 11 million of scout Elves have been ‘adopted’ by families since 2005.
However, not everyone is a fan. Dr David Kyle argues in Psychology Today that the concept of Elf on a Shelf is a crutch for parents to encourage good behavior at home. He also believes it’s another lie that parents tell children which “does not encourage imagination”.
“It threatens your parental trustworthiness, and it encourages credulity,” he said.
Meanwhile, The Atlantic columnist Kate Tuttle calls it "a marketing juggernaut dressed up as a tradition" whose purpose is "to spy on kids" and that one shouldn't "bully your child into thinking that good behavior equals gifts."
So the jury is out. Is Elf on the Shelf naughty or is he nice?