The days of “Dear Viginia” are long past. For those that don’t understand the reference, there was an 8-year old girl (Virginia O’Hanlon) who wrote a letter to the Editor of the New York Sun to ask him if there was really a Santa Claus. The letter was written over 50 years ago.
I reference this lovely story to contrast how information unfolds today and how dramatically different it is from the past. As parents, we treasure our children’s innocence and unshaken belief in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. We naively think that because we believed as kids, they in turn will have years of pleasure and surprise in these traditions. The belief in magic, goodness and reward are powerful motivators.
My thoughts turned in this direction recently. Last holiday, an event happened in my family that illustrated this point. We were given the gift of the “Elf On the Shelf”. For a few weeks my daughters enjoyed the fact that the elf disappeared at night and reappeared in the morning. The story of the elf is that he or she, is part of Santa’s team and returns each night to report on the behavior of the kids. Our elf was named Elford. Not too creative, but it stuck. While the elf was not the most attractive, he was fun and added excitement to our mornings as we searched for him around the house.
One night, I returned home from work, full of the holiday spirit. My eldest daughter met me at the door with a serious face, saying she had something important to show me on her computer. She pulled up Google and did a search. When she was finished, I was told to “Look!”. The search was for “Elf On The Shelf” and the description proceeded to tell the story of the elf and how fun it would be for your kids. The excerpt showed the box and gave instructions on what to tell your kids. With a face torn with superiority (“I’m smarter than you think”) and disappointment (“I can’t believe he’s not real”), my daughter asked if it was true. I was honestly stumped. I never imagined that she would do a search and find this out.
Over the course of the next week, she asked me about Santa. Within a few months, the conversation moved to the Easter Bunny. For some reason, realization that the Tooth Fairy was not real seemed to hit her hardest of all. While I’ve been worrying about what the girls hear in school from their friends, the real threat was in front of me all this time. While I would never go back to the days without the web, I wonder about other things are in store for me. It’s easy to say I should have been watching what my daughter was doing on her pc, but realistically that is impossible. Kids are going online at schools and at younger ages. They either own, share or borrow iphones, ipads, laptops. In the process, they’re accessing, sharing and creating content at an accelerating rate. That’s great news for those of us in the technology industry, but more of a challenge for parents that want to enjoy another year of two of magic and innocence.