When Chris Jordan said that her 12-year old son wouldn’t be able to trick or treat because he had a football game on Halloween, another mom looked at her like she had two heads. At 12, the woman informed Jordan, he was far too old to go trick-or-treating anyway.
Jordan, an Austin, Texas, mom of seven children, ages 8 to 18, wasn’t completely shocked by the other parent’s disapproval. “There’s a pretty large group here in Austin that thinks once your kid is 10 or 11, they shouldn’t be going out — that Halloween is just for little kids.”
People across the country and the blogosphere are asking when kids should stop with the trick-or-treating. After all, a cute little princess or power ranger on your porch is one thing. A six-foot-tall teenager, who can’t be bothered to paint his face or wear a plastic mask in return for some Smarties, can start to feel like something else — perhaps not entirely in the spirit of the holiday.
Some cities have placed a legal age limit on trick-or-treating. In Belleville, Ill., eighth grade is the last year you can go out trick-or-treating with your friends on Halloween. A city ordinance prohibits high school students from participating in any “Halloween solicitation.”
According to Erin Clifford of the City of Belleville’s mayor’s office, Mayor Mark Eckert led the push for a high school trick-or-treating ban in 2008 because constituents — primarily single mothers and senior citizens — were frightened by larger teens showing up at their homes on Halloween.
Mayor Eckert told the Associated Press, “When I was a kid my father said to me, you’re too damn big to be going out trick-or-treating. When that doesn’t happen, then that’s reason for the city government to intervene.”
Boonsboro, Maryland has an even stricter cut-off. According to the Boonsboro town clerk, Barbara Rodenhiser, the city prohibits children over 12 from going door to door on Halloween.
Are we going overboard with trick-or-treating bans and cut-offs? We are just talking about a single night on which teenagers may want to ring your bell, snag a handful of Hershey Kisses, and partake in one of America’s greatest childhood pastimes. Isn’t a little trick-or-treating in junior high and high school better than our kids growing up too fast?
As Chris Jordan put it, “In the big scheme of things, trick-or-treating is a fun, innocent tradition.” Though Jordan says teens who want to trick or treat have got to hold up their end of the bargain. “The holiday is based on dressing up and getting candy in return. It’s not about going out and begging for stuff.”
Most folks agree that there is a social contract on Halloween. Teens can’t just show up on somebody’s doorstep, trolling for candy, without wearing some kind of costume.
Megan Latshaw, a mother in Baltimore, Md., says she’ll give candy to anyone next week, regardless of age, as long as they make a good faith attempt at a costume. She recalls the time an older teen showed up at her house on Halloween in what looked like regular street clothes. Half-jokingly, she demanded to know what he was dressed up as. “He responded very quickly that he was a student,” she says. “At least he had an answer.” So she gave him candy.
High school sophomore Amanda Mauriello, 15, says kids from 1 to 17 trick-or-treat every year in her town of Branford, Ct. But she agrees that Halloween is a two-way street. No matter how old you are, you’ve got to put in a little elbow grease — or greasepaint. “If you are out trick-or-treating,” she says, “you have to wear some kind of costume.” She plans on dressing up as either an M&M or a cowgirl this year.
And before you judge a trick-or-treater’s age, it’s important to remember that teens today don’t necessarily look like adolescents from previous generations, and that children can show signs of physical maturation at different stages in their tween and teen years. That hulking "teenager" on your doorstep might be younger than you think.
Dr. Melissa Arca, a pediatrician, blogger and mother of two, reminds people this Halloween that there’s a wide range of what a healthy teenage girl or boy may look or sound like. “We’ve known for some time that girls are maturing physically earlier and earlier,” she says. “For the last few years, girls as young as 9 and 10 have been going through puberty. And then some girls will experience physical signs of maturing much later.”
Boys may also be developing earlier than past generations, according to a recent study in the journal Pediatrics. Meaning, that kid in front of you may not be as old as you think— even if he’s got a five o’clock shadow that's not painted on. And even if he is on the tail end of age-appropriate trick-or-treaters, worst case: he makes off with a few pieces of your candy.
Get your Boo on with more stories from TODAY Moms:
Moms' candy confessions: Yes, we ate your chocolate
Why Halloween is the scariest holiday for dads
TODAY's special Halloween section
Is it OK for little boys to dress like girls on Halloween?