When teenagers show up at my door on Halloween, I always give them a few extra bits of candy. I hope it helps them when grumpier folks tell them they’re too old to trick-or-treat.
We don’t make fun of adults who come to the door with their decked-out literal infant in their arms. Who thinks the baby’s eating that licorice rope? More to the point, who cares? Nor do we chide older teens and young adults who spend hours getting ready for a costume party. Or those who wear costumes to the office on Halloween.
What would you rather a teen do with the holiday? Egg houses? Drink?
How old is too old to trick-or-treat and who gets to make that declaration?
As Kristen Thompson wrote a few years ago in a blog post for Today’s Parent, “The problem is that teenagers exist in a murky in-between world: Not quite children, not quite adults. Shaming teens (who are still kids, after all) for trying to prolong a fun and harmless childhood tradition seems pretty unreasonable. Besides, kids come in all shapes and sizes, as well as cognitive abilities. Which means the tall kid with the deep voice dressed as a Ninja could really be 12. He could also have special needs. You just don’t know.”
The Washington Post posed that question recently, starting with the story of a Canadian mom and content creator, Sarah Nicole Landry, who posted a TikTok video asking people to be nice to candy-seeking teens. They are, after all, nearing the end of a beloved ritual.
As the Post reported, “Her video went viral, with thousands of comments in response. ‘As a teenager this made me so happy I cried,’ reads one comment. In fact, dozens of comments say some variation of that. Some teens lamented that they wanted to trick-or-treat, but were afraid of getting dirty looks. Others said their own parents discouraged them.”
The article notes that trick-or-treating is a childhood activity and giving it up is a bittersweet milestone. “To move on from it is to acknowledge the end of an era, which might be wrapped up in feelings about what it means to grow up and trade in make-believe and innocence for responsibility (and potentially intimidating alternatives, like adult-free house parties).”
Many of those teens had their trick-or-treating years shortened by the pandemic, too. Aren’t we all trying to make up for that lost time in our own ways?
Some communities have banned teens from the door-knocking festivities, including Portsmouth, Virginia, which says 12 is the oldest allowed. Per the Post, “According to the police department, this is to maintain safety and to ensure that there are enough resources (i.e. candy) for younger children.” By email, a police department spokesman told The Washington Post that older kids might accidentally “intimidate younger children, leading to a less enjoyable experience for the younger ones.”
NPR reports that some towns take their bans pretty seriously. Chesapeake, Virginia, only recently removed the threat of six months in jail for any teen caught trick-or-treating.
“The city changed the law after a massive backlash. But its statute still says kids over 14 who trick-or-treat are guilty of a misdemeanor,” per NPR.
There are other bans in other places, the article says. Anyone older than eighth grade in Belleville, Illinois, who solicits candy on Halloween is guilty of a crime. “The city also requires anyone over 12 years old to get ‘permission of the mayor or chief of police’ if they want to wear a mask or disguise on days other than Halloween.”
Other cities also have rules or outright bans on teens when it comes to trick-or-treating. And some set time limits. NPR says Taft, Texas, says the door knocking can only happen from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Thompson’s take? “Childhood goes by in the blink of an eye. We can’t lament how our children grow too fast while also shaking our fingers at teens looking to hang on to the magic of Halloween for one more year. Let teenagers — regardless of their height, age or abilities — hang on to trick-or-treating just a little longer. They’ll be grumpy adults like the rest of us before you know it. Why rush them there?”