As Halloween approaches, a long-debated question arises: How old is too old to go trick-or-treating?
The answers vary. One town in Canada has drawn a hard line with a bylaw announced in September that bans anyone older than 16 from trick-or-treating and hits any rule-breakers with a $200 fine. But to parenting and etiquette experts, the rules are not always so clear.
There is no widely accepted cutoff age for older children who want to wear costumes and demand candy on Oct. 31, experts say. Most teenagers stop dressing up and trick-or-treating somewhere between the ages of 12 and 16 — but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad manners for them to go door-to-door, as long as they are polite while out on the streets.
“The big concerns I have are that younger kids get priority,” said Lizzie Post, co-president at the Emily Post Institute, which offers advice on etiquette. “You want to make sure younger kids are getting the chance and the opportunity, but I don’t want to discourage teens from enjoying this as long they’re behaving well.”
Other recommendations for teenagers who want to trick-or-treat include wearing costumes that are not too scary, so younger children feel comfortable, saying please and thank you when taking candy, and embodying a friendly (not spooky) spirit of Halloween — hold off on the tricks and the treats will come without much complaint.
The responsibility to make sure trick-or-treating goes smoothly for children of all ages also lies with parents and the adults who are giving out candy, says education psychologist and parenting writer Michele Borba. If teenagers want to trick-or-treat, parents should figure out why and work with the local community to ensure Halloween night works for everyone. This could include setting specific timeframes for teenagers to trick-or-treat, making it clear to the neighborhood that kids of all ages will be out on Halloween, or having teenagers lend a hand with managing younger children.
“For kids who still want to trick-or-treat, how about going with younger siblings? Big kids helping little kids — that could be a very positive experience,” Borba says.