When kids are little, you clutch their hands as you go trick-or-treating around the neighborhood on Halloween. As they grow older, you may trail behind them so your presence doesn’t embarrass them. But eventually, whether they’re tweens or teens, they’ll want to experience Halloween with their friends, not a chaperone.
But is it safe for groups of kids to trick-or-treat on Halloween without adult supervision?
No study can tell you what the perfect age is to allow your costumed kid and her friends to knock on your neighbors’ doors for candy without an adult. But research does show that crossing the street — something children will do on Halloween unless they’re confined to your block — is often dangerous and requires adult supervision until they’re at least 10 years old. According to a report put out by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: “There is general agreement among traffic safety professionals that children under the age of 10 should not cross traffic alone; however, research has shown that parents believe children as young as 7.6 years are old enough to cross a street.”
An adult-free Halloween may not even be an option for kids of a certain age. Some cities actually ban trick-or-treaters once they reach the tweens and teen years, with or without an adult accompanying them. According to the New York Daily News, several cities in Virginia have age limits on trick-or-treating, which started as far back as the 1970s. Other towns, such as in Maryland, Mississippi, and South Carolina, cut off trick-or-treating on Halloween starting at age 12.
That leaves a short window of time in which kids are old enough to safely cross the street by themselves and are still young enough to be interested in dressing up and collecting candy door-to-door (and in some cities, are still allowed to trick-or-treat).
What the experts say
“It’s difficult to say when a child can go trick-or-treating without an adult,” Marilyn Segal, a developmental psychologist, told BabyCenter. “This depends on the safety of your neighborhood, your child’s maturity, and your own comfort level. You should never let your child go trick-or-treating all by himself; if you are ready to let him go without an adult, make sure he travels with other children his age. One alternative to accompanying an older child (your mere presence may embarrass him) is to enlist a beloved babysitter to go along.”
Other experts, such as Lenore Skenazy, author of Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry), say that older kids benefit from having the freedom to participate in Halloween on their own. “A lot of kids today rarely walk around their neighborhood at all,” Skenazy wrote on her website, Free Range Kids. “Halloween night is the perfect time to break the ice, since a whole lot of kids are out. It’s also a nighttime holiday — at least when kids get a little older — and a kid who goes out without a parent at night is a kid who walks a little taller the next day. Yes, walk your young kids around the neighborhood (or have an older kid do it). But when they get to the age that you went trick or treating without your parents, let your kids have that same empowering, en-candying experience.”
What the parents say
“I’d never let my children go trick-or-treating alone. Safety is a huge issue for me when it comes to our kids. I think it’s more dangerous now than when I was growing up. The Internet does raise awareness of the horrible things that go on, but there are things happening today that just didn’t happen 20 years ago — or we didn’t hear about it as much. I think Halloween is a target for those who aren’t cautious enough to be aware of the danger that lurks on every other street corner.” —Tony B.
“My husband and I go trick-or-treating with our kids. But I like Halloween and so I enjoy tagging along in a pink wig, and my kids, at age 11 and 12, aren’t yet at the ‘go-away mom’ phase. I will eventually let my kids go alone when they express an interest. And even now they often get well ahead of us, but we can always find them by cellphone. I don’t really worry about violence or tainted candy or abduction, but I do really worry about the cars. By next year, when my son is 13, if he wanted to go alone with friends, I’d let him, provided I get to pick the location.” —Jane Reill
The bottom line
Children, even older kids, shouldn’t trick-or-treat completely solo. In general, a parent, close relative such as an older sibling, or trusted sitter should always go with your child while he trick-or-treats — or a group of friends, if you feel that your kid and his peers are responsible and mature enough to not need an adult chaperone. If you do decide to let your kid head out on Halloween with his friends and no adults, set some ground rules ahead of time, such as what time you’d like him to check in, when you expect him to come home, and an agreed-upon route he and his friends will be taking around your neighborhood.
(Photos: Getty Images)