Friday, December 26, 2014

Cold Take: Elf on the Shelf

2015 will be the year that I perfect the cold take. What is a cold take? I'm not quite sure how to define it, but here's one I wrote for an example. Whatever it is, a cold take is unlikely to get many page views and has no chance of going viral. What follows is my cold take on elf on the shelf.

Maybe you've read the recent piece in The Washington Post about how elf on the shelf prepares children for living in a police state. I can understand people thinking the elf on the shelf is creepy and that it trains children to be under surveillance.

But I have a much simpler take. The elf on the shelf is fun. My kids had a lot of fun with it for the past two Christmas seasons. They are 7 and 4. Each morning during the past few weeks they would run down the stairs to find the elf. It was fun for them to see where the elf was perched each day. My wife and I would take turns moving the elf. Some nights we forgot, so the elf stayed in place, which led to us lying to our kids by saying "I guess the elf really was comfortable in that spot." I acknowledge a downside to elf on the shelf is that it involves lying to your children. It reminds me of something a student once asked in my class. I can't remember what the topic was, but I think he brought up Santa or the Easter Bunny and passionately asked: "Why do parents lie to their children?" I didn't have an answer then and I don't have an answer now. I still think it's a good question.

But in the interest of tradition and fun, I think it's okay to have your kids enjoy the idea of a shelf hanging around the house for a few weeks. It's nice to see your kids have fun. For us, the elf on a shelf wasn't part of a behavior modification master scheme. But I will say this in a way that is intended to be lighthearted and humorous: make no mistake, we used elf on the shelf as an attempt to temporarily get an edge on our kids. If you think our kids listen to us just because, well, the fact of the matter is, they don't. Well, to be more specific, our 7-year-old listens to us most of the time. Most of the time, our 4-year-old does not listen to us. Our 7-year-old tends to follow instructions. Our 4-year-old, as Terrell Owens might say, beats to his own beat. I don't want to crush my 4-year-old's rebel spirit and I don't want my 7-year-old to be obedient. I love that my kids are different from each other. I guess I might like some balance. I suppose it would be nice if 4-year-old listened more and 7-year-old listened less. Practically speaking, it helps to have cooperation sometimes, such as when you want to leave the house. In such a case it would be nice if 4-year-old agrees to put on his sneakers. And if it takes less of a hassle to get those sneakers on due to the presence of elf on a shelf, I will take what I can get. Frankly speaking, elf on the shelf made close to no difference in the behaviors of my kids. 7-year-old listened as he normally does, 4-year-old refused to listen as he normally does. I have to remember something I've learned during my 42 years on this planet: people will do what they do. Maybe 4-year-old listened 3% more than usual. I'm not sure. You can't quantify everything, no matter what Big Data says.

Now I'm just rambling and this is a factor in why my think pieces average 14 page views per week. So let me wrap this up like a Christmas present. We had fun with the elf on the shelf and it had little or no impact on the behavior of our kids. If we were looking for an edge on our 4-year-old, I don't think it happened. I think he overpowered us as usual. Good for him. As for coming to grips with living in a surveillance state, that's a think piece for another day.

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