The beloved Christmas tradition of Elf on a Shelf may belong on the naughty list.
An expert with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has raised concerns that the custom in which parents hide the doll in the home in the days leading up to the holiday could be normalizing the idea of surveillance by authorities.
Children are told the toy, which is based on a 2004 book by Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell, is watching to report their good and bad behavior back to Santa Claus.
“I know a lot of families just see this as a fun thing, but it’s worth thinking about the messages it’s giving to children about surveillance by authorities,” Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst at the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, told the New York Times.
“Personally, I consider success as a parent to be teaching my kids to do the right thing even when nobody is watching, whether they be from the North Pole or anywhere else.”
Security experts agreed that the toy was sending the wrong message.
“I don’t want to sound like a Grinch, but we shouldn’t be celebrating seasonal surveillance,” Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, told the newspaper. “It’s really a terrible message for kids.”
Caitriona Fitzgerald, deputy director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, agreed that kids may be internalizing the wrong idea, and they should learn that “no one should be looking at you in your bedroom without consent.”
“I don’t want to be the first one to take Santa Claus to court for invasion of privacy, but consent matters, and having privacy matters,” he told the paper.
But critics were quick to hit back on social media, blasting the concerns as overdramatic.
“Oh, give me a break. Will we not stop this stuff until every single ounce of joy & wonder is completely extinguished?” one naysayer bemoaned.
“Omg. Let’s create a paranoid, neurotic generation scared of everything. Of the top million things to worry about I’d put this about negative nine hundred ninety nine thousand,” another commented.
Another Twitter critic quipped about the technology families already have in their homes which can listen to them, writing: “Alexa, does Elf on the shelf teach my children to passively accept being watched by an unseen authority figure.”
The Lumistella Company, which is behind the Elf on the Shelf brand, insisted that the toy is wholesome.
“Santa’s Scout Elves don’t just help to keep up with the Nice List; they also share with Santa how families are spreading the spirit of Christmas,” the company said in a statement to the newspaper.
“Many children note that their favorite moments throughout each season include waking up to see where the family’s Scout Elf has landed and the humorous scenes they sometimes set up. Our hope is that the Elf on the Shelf will create cheerful holiday moments and precious family memories that will last a lifetime.”