Too old to trick-or-treat?

This story originally appeared in the Friday, October 21, 2005 edition of The Kansas City Star

It is a dark and stormy night. The wind howls in the trees. Restless spirits traverse the land. Demons have been loosed from the bonds of hell. It is Halloween.

The doorbell rings. You answer its call carrying your big bowl of Snickers, M's, Dum-Dums and Tootsie-Rolls. And there on your doorstep are four sullen adolescents thrusting pillowcases at you. They are maskless, costumeless, sans makeup. They do not cheerfully chirp "Trick or Treat," as is the accepted custom. Instead their pimply faces silently communicate an attitude of indolent entitlement. "Where's my candy, lady?"

The dilemma is this: If you shoo them away with justified indignation, muttering things about their manners, their upbringing and their lack of understanding regarding the True Meaning of Halloween, are you likely to be scrubbing dried raw egg off your siding the next day? Conversely if you submit to this shakedown - grudgingly dispensing Smarties and Skittles - do you only encourage such extortion?

So? When's too old to go trick-or-treating? When should parents discourage their kids from going door to door on Halloween?

Rule of thumb: When adolescent or preadolescent kids no longer want to wear costumes, because they no longer consider costumes cool, then they're too old to trick-or-treat. Trick-or-treating should be an unselfconscious, innocent and playful ritual.

Gina Roberts-Grey, a licensed clinical social worker, writing online for Coastal Family Magazine, says that children ages 12-15 are caught between the desire to be respected as an independent, responsible, pre-adult and the longing for the carefree days of childhood.

To help tweens and teens through Halloweens during this transition time, parents may want to have "costume-optional" Halloween parties for their adolescents. Enlist the help of other parents. Provide a suitable place where kids will feel free to have safe but minimally supervised fun. Rent a bunch of scary movies. Give 'em music, food, soda, and lots and lots of candy. Candy is what Halloween's all about, after all. If you're going to discourage them from getting candy door to door, you're going to have to compensate another way.

Rule of thumb for homeowners: If doling out candy to teenagers rankles you, it may be better to turn off your porch lights and abstain from Halloween festivities altogether. There is no safe and effective means of keeping adolescents from coming to your door. And scolding them about being too old for trick-or-treating will not deter them. Though most likely they will not vandalize your property with "tricks" in revenge for your refusal to hand out treats, it is an unnecessary risk. Buy enough candy to give without grumbling to all who ring your bell, or turn out the lights and go to a movie.


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