Halloween isn’t the most high tech of holidays. Sure, you can amp up your jack-o-lantern, but some of the ghastliest ones are carved with a kitchen knife and lit with a flickering votive. Likewise, you can buy all sorts of animatronic scarecrows and tombstones, but they tend to be on the cuter side of scary. Making authentic ones with old dingy clothes stuffed full of hay are more likely to give trick-or-treaters a major case of the creeps.
There are some ways that you could—and should—use technology to enhance your Halloween experience. For instance, using smartphones, LED lights, and apps can keep your little monsters safer than ever while they roaming the streets in search of treats. Try some of these tech-based safety tips when your kids their rounds this year.
1. Know Where the Treats Are
There’s nothing worse for costumed kiddos than making your way up a front walk, only to find that the homeowner has no goodies to share. (Well, except for the houses that give out toothbrushes—they’re the worst!) Instead of guessing whether the lit house with no porch light on is in or out on Halloween, check out NextDoor’s Treat Map.
A hyper-local social network with Android and iOS apps, NextDoor lets neighbors speak to each other about important issues on their block, while blocking out people who live elsewhere. The service’s Treat Map also lets users share if they have candy to give away. So telling NextDoor that your house is in not only encourages families to swing by, but it also helps them to map out a safe Halloween route, with your home on it.
2. Avoid the “Haunted” Houses
While parents may tell their children that there is nothing to be scared of when trick or treating, they also know there are nearby homes that should be avoided. It’s easy to spot residences that are decrepit or have unfriendly dogs, for example, but convicted sex offenders are not as readily evident. Around Halloween, the issue of sex offenders is a complicated one, with cities, counties, and states having differing laws, policies, and regulations about what these now-free citizens can or should do on that day.
Parents should be aware of potential problem homes in their neighborhood. The National Sex Offender Public Website is an excellent year-round resource for people to inform themselves, and is a must-visit before your children put on their costumes and head out into the streets.
3. See and Be Seen
As the days get shorter (Daylight Savings even ends at 2 a.m. after Halloween), earlier sunsets make it harder to see your kids—especially if they’re wandering the streets dressed in dark Darth Vader regalia. Brandishing a bright-glowing LED Lightsaber is a great way for little Sith lords to alert cars to their presence, but not everyone wants to be a Jedi this year. (Shocking, I know.)
And while glow sticks have always been a popular way to improve children’s visibility while trick-or-treating, it’s time for parents to get with the times and use wearable LED lights instead. Brighter, longer-lasting, and reusable, these inexpensive bits of technology are also great for early morning dog walks or late evening bike rides. And what Elsa wouldn’t want a cool, glowing, blue armband to match her dress?
4. Keep Track With GPS
In the age of the family cell plan, teens and tweens are increasingly packing smart phones. More than just Snapchat machines, these handsets have an important feature that can keep kids safe on Halloween: GPS. There are many ways that users can use GPS to track each other on smartphones. For example, iPhones have a Find My Friends app made by Apple that can let one user see another’s location (if they grant permission). On iPhones running iOS 8 or newer, this feature can also be accessed by tapping on the contact’s information within iOS’s Messages app.
If one person has an iPhone and another has an Android handset, it can be hard to connect. Thankfully Glympse, maker of a great, everyday location-sharing app, has a Halloween-oriented app called Track & Treat, which lets parents watch their smartphone-clad kids realtime on a map. iPhone users can download the free app here, while Android users can get theirs here.
5. Carry an Emergency Phone
Some parents prefer that their children not have smartphones. But that doesn’t mean their little zombies and vampires should go out without a lifeline. An inexpensive, emergency phone powered by a single AA battery, SpareOne is the first thing you should throw in your trick-or-treater’s bag, and hopefully the last thing that you’ll need. The $59 phone may look old-school with its candy bar form factor and physical buttons, but it’s dependable and works in freezing or searing temperatures.
With a panic siren and SOS flash, it can help lost little ones be found. And by programming your home or mobile phone number into the handset before you go out, they don’t even need to remember your digits to reach you in a pinch. Then, when the night is over, toss it in your glove box or emergency preparedness kit, in case something scary pops up later in the year.