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How old is too old to trick or treat?

Posted Oct 28, 2011 by Courtney Cairns Pastor

Updated Oct 27, 2011 at 04:53 PM

I ducked into one of those pop-up costume shops a couple of weekends ago to look for the finishing touches I needed for my son’s Halloween costume. He’s going as Pittsburgh Steeler Troy Polamalu, and I was hoping for some eye-black stickers and a tot-sized crazy wig.

No luck. The selection of toddler and child costumes was paltry. They occupied a mere aisle and a half in the store, which was otherwise stuffed with all sorts of decidedly adult outfits. I left empty-handed.

Wasn’t Halloween supposed to be a children’s holiday?

Halloween was pretty straightforward when I was growing up. Mom made my brother’s and my costumes or bought us those sets with a (probably flammable) shiny gown and plastic mask I could barely breathe in.

I walked around the neighborhood trick-or-treating and was home early enough to watch “The Cosby Show.” (Am I dating myself?) One neighbor usually went all out to try to scare kids who came to his door. Another gave out toothbrushes.

The adults back then played a supporting role in our Halloween. Now the holiday has shifted more and more into grown-up hands. Martha Stewart leads the pack, with ghostly appetizers, elaborate costumes and creepy-cool home decorations. The theme parks set up haunted houses that no parent would ever want to bring children to – unless they enjoy soothing frightened kids with bad dreams after midnight.

And the costumes. Wow. I have never felt like so much of a prude as I did a few years ago when I was looking through the mass-market costumes for something I could wear to a Halloween party. I didn’t realize so many professions could be turned “naughty.” Naughty firefighter. Naughty referee. Naughty clown?

But trick-or-treat night should still fall in the little guys’ domain.

It’s flat-out illegal in some cities to trick or treat once you hit the teen years. We don’t have that here in Tampa, but most parents have a general idea of how old is too old to trick or treat.

The Today Show’s parenting website posted a poll this month where more than half of the 18,000 respondents said 13 to 15 fell in the “too old to trick-or-treat” category.

As one of my friends said in a Facebook discussion on the topic: “If you can drive, you don’t trick or treat.”

Other moms who posted didn’t understand the fuss. One said she collected candy all through high school and has no problem passing it out to anyone now – no matter how old – because it’s all in good fun.

Costumes seem to be key.

“As long as you’re in costume, adults should be able to trick-or-treat as well,” one mother wrote. “Why do only the little kids get to have all the fun?”

The lack of costumes probably bothers me more than the age of the visitors at my door. I’m not nervy enough to turn kids away, but I like a little effort. After all, I went to the trouble of buying the candy. At least make an attempt at dressing up.

Older trick-or-treaters need to respect the clock, too. We shut our lights off around 9 p.m., the universal “no more trick-or-treaters” signal in my mind. By this time the youngest kids have come through, and I need to get the dishes done, put the kiddo to bed and give myself some time to unwind. It’s unnerving to get a knock on the door at 10 p.m. from a teenager I don’t even know.

Yes, I said I like costumes, but a Scream mask at that time of night is not what I had in mind, either.

I’d love to be able to keep Halloween as a night for the little kids and give them a chance to play. If you want to play, too, you’re welcome to join. But remember you’re in their sandbox – play by their rules.


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