Towns across the US make it illegal for teenagers to trick-or-treat

Is there an age limit on fun?
Is there an age limit on fun?
Image: Reuters/ Andrew Cullen
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How old is too old to go trick-or-treating? As Halloween approaches, Chesapeake, Virginia says the answer to that question is anyone over the age of 12.

City officials recently announced that doorbell-ringing candy seekers over the age of 12 could face a misdemeanor charge, up to six months in jail, and $25 to $100 fines. They’re far from alone: WAVY’s hrScene reports that nine towns in Virginia have made it illegal for teens to trick-or-treat. The Associated Press reports that officials in Meridian, Mississippi, Bishopville, South Carolina, and Boonsboro, Maryland, also have set the cutoff age at 12. The phenomenon isn’t limited to the US: In 2017, Bathrust, a town in Canada, banned anyone older than 16.

There’s no widely accepted etiquette for who gets to trick-or-treat. Most kids naturally stop doing it when they become teenagers (“ew, me, dress up?”). Still, some parents believe they should preserve their kids’ childhood traditions as long as possible. This debate was the topic of a Today show segment in September 2017, and in an unofficial survey, 66% of viewers responded that there should be an age limit.

Officials say they won’t be actively looking to catch teenage trick-or-treaters in the act. The age limits, along with measures like curfews, are part of a broader push to limit pranks and vandalism. Some parents think that preventing older kids from participating in Halloween traditions will have the opposite effect. Hans Broedel, a University of North Dakota history professor and expert on early traditions, told the AP that “trick-or-treating in a large part is embraced in this country because it serves to cut down on teenage vandalism,”adding “telling teenagers they can’t go trick-or-treating isn’t going to stop them from going out on Halloween.”

A Facebook post last year argued that all kids, regardless of age, should be allowed to take part in trick-or-treating. It was shared more than 4,000 times, with close to 700 comments illustrating just how bitter this debate has gotten, according to The Kansas City Star.

Some parents argued that kids shouldn’t be coddled (echoing the theories laid out by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt in The Coddling of the American Mind). Others argued that even older kids should be encouraged to take part in the sense of wonder and excitement of Oct. 31, and most said they were willing to give candy to whoever darkens their stoop. That seems consistent with the scientific studies that find play is integral to helping children develop into healthy, well-adapted people, and that play encourages kids to develop agency, collaboration and creativity.

Given how over-scheduled, anxious, and unhappy today’s teens are, maybe a little Halloween magic is exactly in order.