Suzanne Tobias

October 30, 2013

Halloween is too much fun to impose age limits

When I was a teenager, 40-year-olds seemed ancient.

When I was a teenager, 40-year-olds seemed ancient.

Similarly, when my children were preschoolers dressed in adorable, matched-set Halloween costumes – elephant and lion, Dorothy and Scarecrow, princess and knight in shining armor – the older kids who came to our door dressed as bloody zombies or freaky clowns seemed alien for reasons other than their costumes.

They were enormous, for one thing – 5-foot-2 if they were an inch! They stayed out past 8 p.m.! And they wandered the streets nearly independently, a stray parent or two trailing a half-block behind with a flashlight and a bag of microwave popcorn, shouting, “Don’t walk in the grass!” or “Not there! No porch light!”

I’d shake my head back then, secure in my conviction that trick-or-treating was a little kid’s game. These teens and pre-teens are pushing it, I thought. And that’s when I declared my (first) official cut-off age for trick-or-treating:

Middle school.

When our kids start sixth grade, I told my husband, no more trolling the neighborhood for treats. If you’re old enough for algebra, you’re too old for Halloween, I announced smugly. You’ve had your turn. Put away that orange plastic pumpkin and grow up. And shame on those parents who let 11- and 12-year-olds trick-or-treat.

Eleven?! Twelve?! Come on, that’s ancient.

Then my children started inching up to that arbitrary age, and I reconsidered. They’re so little, I told my husband. They still love dressing up. When we were growing up, sixth grade was still elementary school, remember? I said. And I’m pretty sure we all trick-or-treated.

Not to mention, Halloween has become such a fun tradition with our neighbors and their kids, and I didn’t want to see it end. Even after we moved, we pledged to reunite this one night a year to take pictures of all the kids in their costumes, grab some flashlights and catch up on one another’s lives while we escorted our brood through the neighborhood. What’s the harm in that?

It was a classic parenting flip-flop, but one I freely own up to.

I was wrong to think older kids have no right to Halloween traditions, as long as they behave themselves and play by the rules. At our house that means you wear a costume (and not just a mask or football helmet, because that’s lame), you say “trick-or-treat” and “thank you,” you don’t scare little children, and you don’t knock on doors past 8:30 p.m. Because other families have little kids they need to bathe and put to bed. Or maybe they’re old, like me, and want to catch the 9 o’clock news.

Like so many never-say-never parenting propositions – I’ll never let my kids drink soda! I’ll never buy my daughter a cellphone! I’ll never forget to pick up my son from jazz band rehearsal! – my thoughts on Halloween age limits have evolved.

I still have boundaries, of course. When full-grown adults appear at my door in plain clothes and carrying a pillowcase, claiming they’re collecting candy for a sick child at home or in the car – seriously? in the car?! – I tend not to play along. Or I grimace when I do. Neither do I appreciate carpool-style trick-or-treating, where a parent drives block to block, letting kids out to knock on doors as they go.

But an occasional pre-teen or even teenager in a cool costume, walking through the neighborhood with friends or family members and relishing a great, old-fashioned holiday tradition? I don’t mind rewarding that with a piece of chocolate.

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