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National Poll: Should Teens go Trick-or-Treating?

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT
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Here’s a practical question for parents:

Should you let your teen go trick-or-treating this year?

For most people in the U.S. the debate is open. It depends on the teen, what they plan to do, and who they’re planning to do it with.

In some towns, however, the question has been asked and answered: in several towns in Virginia, trick or treating for anyone over the age of twelve is illegal.

As in against the law – no joke.

The towns of Chesapeake, Newport News, Norfolk, Suffolk, and Virginia Beach passed laws making trick-or-treating illegal for teens. In Chesapeake, teens can be fined up to a hundred dollars and face up to thirty days of jail time. In Newport News, parents of younger children can trick-or-treat with their kids, but wearing masks is illegal.

Granted, there’s some gray area.

When a teenager – especially an older one – tells their parents they want to get together with a group of friends to go trick-or-treating, there are good reasons to be skeptical, and good reasons to be supportive.

On the one hand, it sounds cute and fun. You’re happy your teen wants to hold on to that little bit of childhood for just one more year.

On the other hand, it sounds like trouble. The whole treat part sounds suspiciously like an excuse to roam the neighborhood at night, with no adult supervision, identities conveniently hidden by costumes and masks. The plan: engage in some traditional trickeration like egging houses and smashing pumpkins.

Put that way, it doesn’t sound like a great idea.

Making it illegal might be going a little too far – but that’s just our opinion. We’re confident the people of Virginia know what’s best for their towns. We just don’t get it. Maybe they know something we don’t.

Either way, what they do in Virginia us irrelevant, unless you live there.

The question here is about your teen: should you let them go trick-or-treating?

Our answer: it depends.

Teen Trick-or-Treating: One Situation at a Time

One great thing about Halloween is that almost everyone just goes with it. Unlike Christmas, where it’s easy to prove Santa – spoiler alert! – does not exist, the idea that the spirit world is closer to the real world is completely unprovable, and therefore, it’s also impossible to disprove.

But really, it doesn’t matter: everyone just has fun and enjoys themselves.

That’s why we think teens – if they want to – should be allowed to trick-or-treat. It truly is a time when communities come together, willingly suspend their disbelief for a few hours, and have a good time dressing up and walking around the neighborhood filling bags with delicious candy.

With that said, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that some teens do love to misbehave on Halloween.

In fact, there’s a long history of teens getting into trouble on Halloween. This article in Vice Magazine details police reports dating back to 1901 about teenagers breaking the law on Halloween, and this article in USA Today points out that young children are twice as likely to get hit by a car – and die – on Halloween than on any other day of the year.

But all that doesn’t answer our question: should you let your teen go, or not?

An Offical Poll

In case you’re having a hard time deciding what to do, don’t worry: you can take the temperature of the nation and see what the general consensus is – and you don’t have to go around asking thousands of people yourself.  Because believe it or not, the experts at 538 Blog collected data on what age people think kids should stop trick or treating.

For full details, click the link and read the blog. If you want the highlights, read on.

The 538 Blog Data

Out of 921 respondents, when asked at what age kids should stop trick-or-treating:

  • 18% think kids should stop trick-or-treating at age 13
  • 14% think kids should stop trick-or-treating at age 12
  • 12% think kids should stop trick-or-treating at age 14
  • 13% think kids should stop trick-or-treating at age 15
  • 18% think you’re never too old to go trick-or-treating

Out of 868 respondents, when asked at what age they stopped trick-or-treating:

  • 25% said they stopped at age 12
  • 17% said the stopped at age 13
  • 13% said they stopped at age 14
  • 7% said they stopped after they were 18

That gives you a fair idea of when your average American thinks kids should stop trick-or-treating. Again, our position is that you’re never too old to enjoy Halloween. We don’t necessarily advocate adults going out trick-or-treating on their own, without kids – that would be a little odd, and probably make neighbors suspicious – but we do think it’s a great idea for parents to join in the fun and go trick-or-treating with their kids.

Holiday Traditions Are Important

If your teen wants to go trick-or-treating on Halloween, and you’re sure their motives aren’t mischievous, then it’s a great idea. Traditions like Halloween ground kids in the past and remind them what’s important in life: friends, family, and wholesome good fun. We think the very best scenario is for teenage kids to go trick-or-treating with younger siblings. Make them chaperones. Let them feel like adults and kids at the same time. They can get their Halloween on, give you a break for a couple hours, and feel responsible, all at the same time: that’s a total win-win-win.

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