With Halloween just around the corner, families throughout the country are prepping spooky decorations, stocking up on candy, and getting everyone's costume situation finalized. And before you know it, millions of trick-or-treaters will be out knocking on doors in order to procure as much candy as is humanly possible—then trying to eat it all in one night.
But is your kid too old to partake in the fun this year?
When kids are young, the idea of a trick-or-treat age is a non-issue. Even the littlest pumpkins delight in dressing up on spookiest night of the year. And what school-age kid doesn't like staying up after dark to explore neighborhoods full of witches and monsters? But those in-between tween and teen ages can cause some mixed feelings among holiday purists who think the great candy grab should be little-kids only.
Here's what you need to know as parent before you decide to let your kids trick-or-treat this year.
Trick-or-Treat Age Limit Laws
In general, many believe the trick-or-treat age should be strictly 12-and-under. Some cities and towns even have an actual trick-or-treat law on the books that place an age limit on trick-or-treating. Yes, really.
According to Fortune magazine, Chesapeake, Virginia limits the trick-or-treat age to kids 12 and under, and older trick-or-treaters can actually be charged with a misdemeanor and fined up to $100. Other cities in Virginia have similar trick-or-treat age limit laws in place. Statutes in Virginia Beach, Portsmith, Suffolk, and Norfolk all make trick or treating beyond age 12 a crime. Kids in Newport News who are in 8th grade or above are allowed to accompany younger siblings but wearing a mask is against the law.
Upper Deerfield Township, New Jersey has had a trick-or-treat age law in place for over 30 years that restricts trick-or-treating for kids over 12. The law in Belleville, Illinois, where it's actually called Halloween Solicitation, forbids children over age 12 from wearing a mask and those in 9th grade or above are forbidden by law to "appear on the streets, highways, public homes, private homes, or public places in the city to make trick-or-treat visitations."
Similarly, Charleston, South Carolina, restricts trick-or-treating for teens over 16.
A nation-wide "official" trick-or-treat age limit is clearly a fraught issue with no clear answer. A survey by Today found that 73% of respondents said kids should stop trick-or-treating between the ages of 12 and 17. Municipalities with age-restricting laws say it's in the interest of public safety but many parents of tweens and teens disagree. The sentiment that teens, if not trick-or-treating, might get up to more dangerous activities on Halloween night is common while parents of young children may worry that their little ones' magical night might be ruined by rambunctious teenagers.
Is Your Teen 'Too Old'?
In places where age-restricting laws are in place, families may not have much choice about when is the right time to opt-out of trick-or-treating. If you have a tween too old to head out on Halloween this year, maybe opt to throw party instead, then enlist their help when it comes to passing out candy.
But for those who can choose, it may be tough to determine when older kids should age out. Dr. Vanessa Lapointe, registered psychologist and author of Parenting Right From the Start, suggests parents think very carefully before bringing it up with their kids.
"Really sit with, as a parent, whether you are making this decision for your child or for the people handing out candy who might be giving you a dirty look because they think your kid is too old," Lapointe says. The decision should always be made with your children and their needs and wants in mind.
For parents who are trying to determine if the Halloween magic is gone for their older kids, Lapointe reminds us to consider each child individually. "Children are so unique from one to the next that there could be a few years between when two children of the same age are done with trick-or-treating." While one 13-year-old may prefer to spend the evening handing out candy with parents, another may want to dress-up and do some trick-or-treating. It's important not to make blanket age-related judgments.
Lapointe also points out that every accommodation should be made for children with special needs.
"Many children with special needs are developmentally much younger than they appear. It is about developmental age and stage, rather than chronological age and stage," she explains. To those who may answer the door on Halloween, she urges, "Have heart and welcome them to your doorstep. Remember too that not all developmental differences are visible so go with the flow and trust that parents have made the right call in having their child out and about for the evening."
What Age Can Kids Trick-or-Treat Alone?
Another question parents face regularly this time of year is whether kids should go trick-or-treating without a parent present. Trick-or-treating with a group of peers can make for a fun and confidence-building night for kids, but for some parents, the accompanying worry may not be worth it.
"Consider the different decisions your child will need to make," says Lapointe. "From crossing very busy streets in the dark, mingling with large crowds of happy trick or treaters, and coming into contact with older teens or adults out enjoying the Halloween festivities in a very different kind of way as you make your decision around this." Again, laws in some places may limit the ability of kids to go out on their own on Halloween, but if it's legal, special consideration should be taken before the decision is made.
Parents may consider a communication device like the Relay screen-free phone, for kids who don't have their own cell phones. The ability to check in on your child and the knowledge that they can contact you if there's a problem might provide parents with the peace of mind they need to feel comfortable letting kids strike out with friends.
All children, despite their age, should have to opportunity to celebrate the holiday but it's up to us as parents to help them determine what that means. Every family and every child are different and we all need to remember that childhood doesn't end when kids reach a certain height or age.
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