Are Adults Ruining Halloween for Kids?

Halloween Adults

Warpo Toys asked a question on Facebook yesterday that got to me. It was:

Whether it was home-made or Ben Cooper, [Halloween costumes] transformed us for one night of the year. I feel like we cared a lot more about dressing-up for Halloween than most kids do today. Why do you think that is?

My answer, and keep in mind that I live in Los Angeles and have a daughter who is just now old enough to appreciate some aspects of Halloween, was this:

Trick or treating has become mostly a manufactured, mass-market event. We have no more neighborhoods, only zip codes. The allure of Halloween was the freedom of going out with your friends unsupervised and collecting as much goddamn candy as possible (and maybe getting some revenge on the guy who never gave out candy). Also, when people dress up in Halloween costumes 100 times a year for every conceivable event, the uniqueness of dressing up in a Halloween costume on Halloween loses its uniqueness.

I thought I was probably being my usual grouchy, cynical self, but then I ran across an article at Time that reflected my sentiments, and added a number of salient points:

(1) “American adults now spend significantly more money on their own Halloween costumes than on their children’s.” (1.1 billion compared to 1.4 billion)

(2) “Today the biggest Halloween spenders turn out to be men from the ages of 18 to 34.”

(3) “The traditional going-door-to-door experience has been sanitized, conducted in near daylight with curfews, dwindling numbers of children and smothering adult supervision.”

(4) “Controlling the Halloween environment is meant to keep children safe, of course, but most of our fears are unfounded. There hasn’t been a single documented case of Halloween candy poisoning.”

(5) “Some parents cherish family time on Halloween, of course. But we pay a steep price — and not only a financial one — when we insert ourselves into the one time of year when, traditionally, children could escape the long reach of parental authority without serious consequences.”

Add to this the fact that school districts across the country are banning or attempting to ban Halloween costumes and parades, because of destructively inane political correctness and/or blatant paranoia, and there seems to be some substance behind the accusation.

So the short answer is, yes, I think adults are ruining Halloween for kids, but I think the author of the Time piece misses the underlying cause: It’s not the selfishness and vanity of parents, though that’s a contributing factor, but the continuing erosion of the American middle class, which led to the erosion of the American neighborhood (and the rise of gated communities and tract housing), which led to the transformation of American parents, now rootless and village-less, into paranoid hawks who are so desperate to keep their families unscathed that they are destroying the freedoms and joys of childhood in the process.

This year, my three-year-old girl is dressing up as Glinda from the Wizard of Oz. On Halloween we will take her to a moderately wealthy “neighborhood” in which we know not one person. It’s really just a series of streets populated by folks who can afford to lavishly decorate their houses, but it’s better than a mall or a trunk-or-treat. Everyone is pleasant enough, and we even get some candy thrown in among the organic fruit treats. But I think back to when I was a kid, dressed up as Luke Skywalker and running through the lanes and alleys with my friends, eating as many Three Musketeers bars as I could before I felt like I had to puke or had to go home, and I wonder, with some fear and sadness, how much of that experience will I be able to give my girls?

11 Responses to “Are Adults Ruining Halloween for Kids?”


  1. 1 Brian Williams October 16, 2014 at 6:56 pm

    I worry about the same thing with my kids. We went to a Trunk or Treat last year and I kept thinking “How can this possibly be fun for them?” When we finally went through the neighborhood we had to make sure we hit the houses before the inevitable roving caravans of parents with 20-30 kids in tow swarmed the street and got all of the good candy. It almost made the whole thing seem like a chore.
    Then again, I’m an adult now so the magic has faded for me anyway. Who knows if our kids really feel the same lack of spirit that seems so readily apparent to us?

    • 2 2W2N October 16, 2014 at 7:10 pm

      That’s a good point. Can they really miss experiences they’ve never had? No. But at the same time I think that we would increase their joy of the Halloween experience if they could (1) trick or treat without us tagging along (once they become a certain age), and (2) trick or treat in the neighborhood in which they and their friends live.

      The two are linked, aren’t they? My parents didn’t necessarily like the neighbors when I was growing up, but they at least KNEW the neighbors. Am I romanticizing the idea of the neighborhood?

      • 3 Brian Williams October 16, 2014 at 7:25 pm

        I don’t think you’re over-romanticizing it, but then again I grew up out in the sticks, so trick or treating from my house wasn’t ever really an option growing up. My mom would either drive to a decent neighborhood and wait in the car up the street for us to get done and then drive us to the next spot, so I didn’t really have the benefit of that same freedom you had as a kid, even though the lack of it wasn’t a conscious thing, it was just a necessity driven by location.

  2. 4 His friend J October 16, 2014 at 10:23 pm

    These days I’m not so concerned about poisened candy or razor blades in an apple (like you would let your kid eat that anyhow since you know better), but them disappearing, which is a valid concern given the state of society. Also, along with the roving bands of children were always the older kids bullying and stealing from the younger ones. And the last few years we were really of age to trick or treat, we ended somewhere with our actual friends at chuck-e-cheese or something similar, which was generally more fun.

    • 5 2W2N October 16, 2014 at 10:52 pm

      Statistically, our world is as dangerous as it was in the 1970s. That’s crime stats across the board. But there’s no way I let my kids roam around my current neighborhood like we used to roam around ours, because there’s no safety in numbers like there used to be. That’s the irony. Even if I don’t want to be a helicopter parent, I have to be a helicopter parent, because helicopter parented kids aren’t taught the survival skills and common sense we were taught. They have no idea how to act independently. They have no idea how to handle adversity or conflict. And that makes the world a more dangerous place for kids who ARE taught how to be independent.

  3. 6 narvo October 17, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    Great topic of discussion. When I get the chance, I’ll give my two (hundred) cents. =)

  4. 7 Tom Beiter October 17, 2014 at 7:26 pm

    My wife and I differ on this. Every year I tell her to let the kids go by themselves and run through our subdivision by themselves. She wants to go along and keep an eye on them. Of course, I lose every year. Our subdivision is much safer than the dark street I walked (with no sidewalks) every year by myself. Lights on or off, I knocked on the door, and I even went inside when they answered. Stupid? Maybe, but those are some of my best memories.

    • 8 2W2N October 17, 2014 at 7:36 pm

      How old are they, Tom? My wife and I are both only children, but we come from different backgrounds and cultures. Her parents were much more protective of her, and rarely let her stray from the house in possibly the safest place to grow up in the U.S. My mom was more protective than other moms, but I was still out with my friends from morning until it got dark every weekend. There were boundaries, but those boundaries extended as I got older (skateboarding to the local mall, etc.).

      So I’m sure we’re going to have lots of differences in terms of what we will and won’t let them do. Plus, they’re girls, and that makes me anxious. Can they carry Mace at, say, age 10?

  5. 9 Jay October 19, 2014 at 1:51 am

    I miss the Hallowe’ens we had as kids. Crap, I miss the world we had, where we weren’t made to be afraid of everything outside the front door. Like you said, statistically things are just about the same as the 70s; the difference is, back then we didn’t have a 24 hour world where every little thing that happens is blown out of proportion.

    When my son was growing up, he played with his friends in the apartment complex we lived in. Myself & a few of the more decent parents would keep an eye on the kids from afar, never getting involved unless some argument needed mediating; I can’t remember sitting out on the playground with him once he was old enough to play outside on his own. I wanted him to have the childhood that you, me & a lot of other people from our generation had: up on Saturday to watch cartoons, hit the street at about noon & stay out until the lights came on (& those rare nights when my & my friends parents would stay out late talking, giving us those few nights of playing in the dark!), never worrying about anything other than playing.

    Sad that things are the way there are now…

  6. 10 mikemonaco October 20, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    Great topic. Part of the problem is certainly the collapse of neighborhoods as places where people know each other etc. And ironically, the hordes of helicopter parents make it a little less safe for the other kids, because they are not learning to cross the street safely etc and just expect mom or dad to grab them if a car is coming. 🙂
    Trunk-or-treat bothers me a little too — it seems predicated on the idea that anything but a “secured area” is unsafe for trick-or-treaters. I understand it began in rural areas where houses are too spread out to make t-o-t practical (I believe Halloween parties were a better solution for that though, and trunk-or-treat in my area is usually run by church groups — either to avoid the Satanists who choke the streets on Halloween or in recognition that the congregation is spread out but would rather maintain their own self-selected “community”?).
    Anyway having missed trick-or-treating because of the Tylenol scare, I’m sensitive to the extreme exaggeration of “the danger” these days and it is just sad.

  7. 11 narvo October 20, 2014 at 10:43 pm

    Jumping in really quick—I had no idea what trunk-or-treating was until I came here, but I think one of my next door neighbors was prepping a car for that over the weekend. It was a hatchback type of deal, and they were decking the whole cargo interior out with halloween stuff, complete with some kinda bat garland thing which hung along the top.

    Not to knock my neighbors…different strokes and all, and they’re nice folks…but to me the very idea was horrific. My eyes actually widened and I shuddered at the sight. I’m already saddened by the way things are these days, and to see that just hammered more nails in the coffin. Dood, no WAY will I ever subject my kid to that.


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