It seems that every Halloween, the debate over “how old is too old to go trick-or-treating” resurfaces, and people start taking sides, engaging in online discussions about what will happen if we let middle school and high school students dress up and ask for candy on Beggar’s Nights.
This discussion has been fueled this year by the passing of a law in a small town in Canada banning kids over the age of 16 from trick-or-treating and instituting a 8 p.m. curfew for all trick-or-treaters. Those found in violation of this law could be fined $200. Now, this new law actually relaxed a previous law which banned kids over 14 from trick-or-treating and set the curfew at 7 p.m., but it still maintains the steep fine for those kids who don’t comply.
My response to this? Ridiculous.
Unbeknownst to the lawmakers in Bathurst, once you become a teenager, you do not automatically become a criminal, or even just a mischief-maker. The Bathurst city spokesman said that the “older residents” were concerned about “troublemakers.” How stereotypical is that, on both ends of the spectrum. Teenagers aren’t scary, or at least they shouldn’t be seen as so! These adolescents are trapped between wanting to stay a little kid and wanting to skip right to adult. It’s a tough road to navigate, if you don’t remember actually being a teenager yourself. It’s filled with confusion, doubt, friendships, heartache, anticipation and insecurity. But here’s the deal: When we make laws like this, we are sending the message that we don’t want them to still be able to act like kids once in a while. They should just go straight to being adults–but not the kind of adults who can be trusted not to smash pumpkins or take candy from babies.
Will older-looking 12-year-olds be forced to carry identification with them to prove that they are “of age” if stopped on the street by a cop or over-zealous resident looking for the chance to make a citizen’s arrest? Will kids’ trick-or-treating routines now include showing door answerers a birth certificate before reciting “Why didn’t the skeleton go trick-or-treating?” (Because he had no guts, if you were wondering.) Way to suck all the fun out of Halloween, Bathurst.
I work with teenagers, and I have three teenage boys of my own. Teenagers are not inherently bad. They are not going to automatically take a mile if you give them an inch. They aren’t all plotting how they can scare small children and terrorize adults. Most would not go egg a house even if you supplied the carton of eggs and a getaway driver. They care about people. They want people to care about them. They will amaze you in so many ways if you just give them the opportunity to show you who they really are, beneath that “scary black hoodie” or behind that SnapChat profile.
Now will some teenagers take advantage of opportunities, like trick-or-treating? Will some use it as a chance to grab two handfuls of candy instead of just taking one piece? Will some see Halloween as the excuse to use bad judgment and partake in some genuine “mischief”? Absolutely. But it’s no different with adults. Given the opportunity, will some adults take advantage of a situation or use terrible judgment when making decisions? You bet. Most teenagers will opt to either stay home and help hand out candy to little kids who come to their door, get together at a friend’s house to watch a scary movie on Netflix or maybe embrace that inner 8-year-old and dress up like a zombie or walk around the block in that unicorn onesie they got for their birthday.
And I know this may be a controversial statement, but I truly believe it: Teenagers will be who you show them they are. If you show them you think they are responsible kids, with mostly good intentions, the majority will rise to the occasion. But if you show them that they aren’t to be trusted and must be kept in line by force of law, many will do what they can to prove you right. It’s a generalization, I know, and there are definitely exceptions, but in my experience this has been the case. Do teenagers need boundaries? Definitely. They are still learning about the relationship between actions and consequences. They need guidance from those who have been where they are. But there’s a difference between setting boundaries and enforcing punishment based on things that are out of their control, like when they were born.
So, teens, if you’re listening, you can come trick-or-treat at my house. In fact, PLEASE come trick-or-treat at my house! At least I will know that you’re not out drinking somewhere or driving too fast on the way back from a haunted attraction an hour away. I would love to see what creative costume you come up with, or, even if you don’t want to go the costume route, you can still come knock on my door and ask for candy. I’ll gladly give it to you. It’s okay to be a kid once in a while, and Halloween gives you the perfect excuse to forget about all those stresses that come with being a teenager and just have fun.
And to the teens in Bathurst, I know it’s quite a drive, but if you’re in the neighborhood, you’re invited, too. And I promise, even if you ring my doorbell at 8:02, I won’t call the cops on you.