Question: Should teenagers go trick-or-treating on Halloween, or are they too old for it?
For most people in the U.S. the debate is open. The answer clearly depends on the teen, what their actual plans are, and the group of friends they’re planning to celebrate the holiday with. In the state of Virginia, though, there are several towns where the question is not up for debate: trick or treating for anyone over the age of twelve is illegal.
We’re not joking.
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.
We understand there’s a gray area here.
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 solid reasons to be both supportive and skeptical. On the one hand, it sounds cute. Like the teens want to hold on to that little bit of childhood for just one more year. On the other hand, it sounds like a situation tailor-made for tricks and trouble. The whole treat part – going door-to-door and getting candy – smells like an excuse to roam the neighborhood at night, with no adult supervision, in costumes that mask their identity, and get away with some traditional tricks like egging houses and smashing pumpkins.
Put that way, it doesn’t sound like a great idea.
We think 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, we digress. The question here is about you and your teen: should you let them go trick-or-treating?
Our answer: it depends.
Teen Trick-or-Treating: It’s All About the Circumstances
One great thing about Halloween is that just about everyone 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.
That leaves us to wonder:
Is the veil between the land of witches and ghosts and the land of the living stretched thin on Halloween or is all that just nonsense made up for kids?
It doesn’t matter: everyone just has fun and enjoys themselves. That’s the main reason we advocate for allowing teens 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 in search of the best candy.
There’s a long history of teens misbehaving on Halloween. This article in Vice Magazine details police reports dating back to 1901 about teenagers getting in serious trouble with 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. And believe it or not, 538 Blog has statistics on what age people think kids should stop trick or treating. We won’t bore you with too many details, but we will give you the highlights.
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
So, 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.
For teens, we have some suggestions.
Tips for Parents on Teen Trick-or-Treating
- Know your kid. If your teen has gotten in trouble for shenanigans like smashing pumpkins, egging houses, or teepeeing houses, unsupervised trick-or-treating should be a no-go. If your kid has no history of this kind of behavior, then we say let them go for it.
- Know their friends. If your teen plans to go with kids you know to be excessively mischievous, or kids that have gotten into trouble for the things mentioned in (1) above, then it’s a no-go. If your teen plans to go with kids who have no history of that kind of behavior, we say let them go for it.
- Know the plan. Your teen should be able to tell you exactly how they expect the night to go. Vague answers like “I’m not sure who’s coming” and “We haven’t decided whose neighborhood yet” should be immediately disqualifying.
- Put eyes on them. In the best-case scenario, you should see all the kids involved, all their costumes, and put on your best authoritative parent face for all of them to see before they head off candy-collecting. Meaning they should get that you support their independence, but if they get in trouble, they won’t love the outcome you dole out.
- Make a hard ending time. Nail down as many details as you can, especially the ending point. Trick-or-treating is a 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm thing. There is no reason for teens to be out on the streets unsupervised on Halloween after 9:00 pm. We have no data on this, but we bet not much good happens out there after 9.
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.
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA who writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.