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Halloween Poll: We Asked Parents About Teens and Halloween

In its own way, trick or treating on Halloween can be seen as a metaphor for growing up.

It begins with parents dressing up their kids in sweet and cuddly pumpkin or bear or candy corn costumes and taking them to trick or treat at the neighbor’s house. The next few years, parents help kids dress up as princesses or witches or ghosts or baseball players and wait at the bottom of each driveway while their kids get the goods.

The article that started the conversation:

Soon, kids are coming up with their own crazy—and sometimes inappropriate costumes—and heading out with their friends, returning home laden with candy that parents beg them for. Some even forgo trick or treating, opting for a party at a friend’s house instead.

We simultaneously celebrate every step toward independence and mourn the children that needed us. We feel the tug of this contradiction even more strongly when they are teens; while we know that they need to grow up, we also can’t bear the thought of them not being able to participate in the joyful innocence of trick or treating.

Last year, Your Teen learned the hard way just how strongly parents feel about this holiday. We ran an article that seemed harmless enough. A mom described her surprise—and mild irritation—upon greeting teens without costumes at her door on Halloween.

"I felt slightly annoyed. I purchased the ten bags of candy for adorable kids dressed in costumes, not for teens in jeans and a t-shirt." ~ Cheryl M.

Clearly someone who enjoyed the spirit of Halloween, she felt that trick or treating was a rite of passage for the younger—and costume clad—children in the neighborhood. In a somewhat cheeky tone, at the end of the article she shared her rules for the following year, which clearly stated that if you want candy, you need to:

  • come in a costume
  • have yet to sprout facial hair
  • not be old enough to have a driver’s license

Well. Who knew that her article would spark so much heated discussion? Hundreds of comments followed on our Facebook page.

Some agreed wholeheartedly with the blogger that, just like Ecclesiastes said, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” And when you’re a teenager, trick or treating is no longer your time or season.

However, others felt that Halloween does not discriminate. No matter how old you are or how dressed up you choose to get, it’s a festive, welcoming affair. It is our responsibility to pass out those candy bars to all comers, much like the ancient Greek hospitality rules that focused on kindness to strangers.

As people do, they became very attached to their point of view, and that certainly happened in this case. So much so that Cheryl M’s article about Halloween has become the stuff of legend: “Remember that article where readers went crazy in the comments on Facebook?”

When Halloween approached this year, the smart thing to do would have been not to run the article and avoid the topic of who should trick or treat altogether. After all, we already know that everyone disagrees. But that’s not who we are, for better or worse.

We decided to walk right into the skeleton’s closet and survey as many people as possible so we could identify Halloween trends and if necessary, use this information to talk with our teens about how to be a big kid on a holiday that’s perhaps more geared for little ones.

Your Teen Media Halloween Poll

Here’s what we asked and the responses to our very unscientific but perhaps spooky survey:

Q: Is 16 too old to trick or treat?

Not surprisingly, this question garnered the most votes; 3,400 people had something to say. (Maybe you’re still thinking about the article from last year). The results are in and 79% of the voters stand with the teenagers and think they should get that candy while they can. With adulthood imminent, the masses believed that these teens should enjoy the moment. As Kathy K. said, “Let the kids be kids! I am an equal opportunity candy giver!!! If a 16-year-old comes to my house for candy, they are getting candy!” Jamie K. summed up the feelings of many: “As a parent of a teenager … I love to see them doing ‘kid things’ and not causing trouble. Please don’t discourage them from having fun if they’re behaving.”

Q: Would you give candy to a teen if they weren’t wearing a costume?

Clearly, we’re not over the response to last year’s article, so we just had to ask. A whopping 88% of the voters chimed in to say “Yes of course!” This result makes me wonder—why did I spend so much time figuring out how to dress up my own kids for trick or treating? I’m not naturally crafty, I’m too cheap to buy a costume, and it’s often so cold where I live that costumes get covered, I could have saved a lot of time and energy had I known that my kids could have scored a chocolate bar by just showing up!

While the survey seems definitive, the comments revealed that trick or treating without a costume is still not the preferred approach. Many parents in this situation do give candy, but they do so reluctantly. Erin C. confessed that “Of course, I would give them candy but I’d close the door and complain to my husband that they could have at least worn a costume.”

At the end of the day, Harriet B. gave us this perspective to think about: “A kid is a kid. I love them all.”

Q: Would you rather have your teen trick or treat or go to a Halloween party?

Here’s a good question that really speaks to the childhood innocence that we associate with trick or treating. Which activity seems safer for teens on a night that is legendary for all sorts of mischief? Once again, trick or treating prevailed, as 78% of the voters opted for this activity. In fact, Nicole H. shared that she loves to trick or treat as a family in a big group. And Wendy R. explained that “Trick or treating in costume is one of the few things my now 16-year-old loves to do. I’m in no hurry to force him to grow up!” 

Q; Do you give out candy or healthy snacks for Halloween?

I think it’s safe to say that we haven’t forgotten what Halloween is meant to be: a complete and total sugar rush. 99% of respondents pass out candy. Caroline W. did not mince words: “I’d rather give nothing than healthy if I’m honest! Kids don’t go trick or treating for a banana!!” Big bars, anyone?

Overall, it appears that those who responded to these questions see Halloween as a holiday that we should all enjoy for as long as we can. Candy, teens, and Halloween go together like, dare I say, the Three Musketeers.

Jody Podl

Jody Podl is a teacher at Shaker Heights High School.