The Case for Letting Kids Roam Free on Halloween Night

Halloween seems to inevitably make parents nostalgic. We recount Halloween misadventures of our youths, back when we didn’t adhere to a curfew or let the weather slow us down. We’d run wild at all hours, equipped (handily) with vision-inhibiting masks — and zero reflective tape, jackets, or often even flashlights. And I, for one, think it’s high time we brought this free-range form of parenting back — at least (or especially) for Halloween night.

Halloween’s “destruction” is often attributed to community “trunk or treat” celebrations that are put in place to avoid reckless and potentially unsafe trick-or-treating — by localizing the whole shebang in one parking lot. Parents, having presumably only recently outgrown their own Halloween bar-crawls, insert themselves into these family-fun versions of Halloween, complete with bobbing for organic apples, plus gluten- and corn syrup-free popcorn balls, of course.

The trend towards helicopter parenting, with its stereotypically vigilant moms and dads, shoulders much of the blame for these updates in modern Halloween celebrations. But those helicopter parents — known for forbidding their children to set foot outside unmonitored, uncontrolled, and without protective padding — are finally getting pushback in recent years. A 2018 study published in Developmental Psychology, for example, pointed to problematic long-term effects of helicopter parenting — ie, it renders children less self-sufficient). There’s a movement afoot of parents who are trying to reclaim free-range parenting as a viable (and, yes, safe) option, and for good reason.

No, parents: We don’t have to be with our kids every moment — not even every holiday moment. As a working mom, sure I’m heartsick whenever I miss one of my daughter’s new experiences. I think any increase in family togetherness is beneficial. But how much of the motivation to inject parental involvement into kids’ Halloween activities is family bonding, and how much is paranoia?

We know that the myths of poisoned Halloween candy or strangers wrapping up hallucinogens and handing them out to unsuspecting children are just that: myths. And while it’s already highly unlikely that a stranger will abduct your child (in fact, “stranger danger” is far less of a concern than “tricky people” your child already knows), there’s no rise in child abductions around Halloween. The real danger on Halloween? Statistics show it’s an increase in child pedestrian accidents. And that, while a legitimate concern, doesn’t seem to be at the forefront of most Halloween helicopter parents’ minds.

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