How did this happen? How did Halloween and Trick-or-Treating go from innocent fun to a night fraught with fear and worry? How did the joy of dressing up as a favorite character and getting treats from neighbors become the one day of the year many parents are convinced that their little ones are in mortal danger? It is insanity.
Let’s start with the facts. According to Lenore Skenazy, whose wonderful blog and book of the same name Free Range Kids seeks, among other things, to debunk myths surrounding childhood danger, no child has EVER been poisoned by a stranger’s candy.
“According to Dr. Joel Best, who researched this with newspaper stories going back to 1958, only one kid poisoned by his dad… for the insurance money. The dad was later executed. Another boy was poisoned accidentally by getting into his uncle’s heroin stash, and the family TRIED to make it look like candy poisoning. They were discovered.”
That’s it. Despite these facts, the fear persists, and parents are living in fear around what is supposed to be a fun time. How this has come about, I have no real idea, but I have a theory. Back when I was a kid, the older kids loved telling us scary stories about the house where a kid had disappeared; where the two elderly spinsters plotted to poison kids; about the kid they’d heard of in another town who had found a razor blade in an apple. These were ghost stories, designed to scare the little kids. Somehow as a culture, we internalized those fictions and came to believe they were true, though we had no evidence to support them. It was enough that the “big kids” said it. Well, we’re adults now, and it’s nothing short of insanity to perpetuate that kind of folly. Worse yet, a parent instilling fear in a child is a lot more serious than big kids trying to scare one with stories. Parental authority carries the weight of truth to a child.
In his highly engaging book, Idiot America, Charles P. Pierce lays out how this kind of thinking comes to pass, not just around Trick-Or-Treating, but in so many things in our culture. Essentially, he says that if enough people come to believe something, then it becomes “true,” whether or not there are facts or evidence to support it. That’s how the myths surrounding Halloween have become part of our cultural beliefs and have spawned a whole raft of “experts” who profit from promulgating this. Even the mainstream news, which should try to debunk these falsehoods rather than reinforce them, makes hay with them. “What you must know to avoid danger when you send your kids out on Halloween,” is a very common promotional tease on stations I’ve seen in several cities in the past couple of weeks—and on network news as well. Guess the big kids managed to scare us all enough to create an alternate reality in which the nice old ladies down the block for one night a year turn into homicidal harridans bent on harming sweet, innocent kids. It’s the stuff of horror movies, which are, in case you didn’t notice, fiction!
That is not to say that one should abandon common sense by any stretch of the imagination. Young kids should be supervised when they go out. This year, Halloween falls on a Sunday and before the end of Daylight Savings Time, so there are more daylight hours for Trick-Or-Treating.
Common sense also dictates that kids should be careful if they’re going out after dark—as they would on any night of the year. Make sure masks have large enough eye-holes, or tell kids to lift the masks as they go from house to house. Put reflective tape on Halloween costumes. Give kids a flashlight. If they’re old enough to go out with friends, make sure they stay together and look out for one another. The only documented accidents for Trick-Or-Treaters are pedestrian accidents. This means that if you’re an adult and you’re out driving, you should be extra careful as well.
Go to houses you know, and take the younger kids. Older kids often get into trying to see how much candy they can amass, so they may go further afield, but older kids today may also have cell phones and can be in touch if need be. Most importantly, if you’re nervous, keep it to yourself. Educate your kids about being careful, but then let them go.
As for checking candy, there’s no harm in that, particularly if you get to choose a few samples for yourself. Open wrappers are more likely to suggest spoilage rather than poisoning. Oh, and be sure to manage the consumption process as well because overindulging in sweets, though not dangerous for one night, can mean an upset tummy.
Most of all, enjoy this holiday. Use common sense, make it fun, and don’t buy into the stories intended to scare you—or at least acknowledge that they’re not real. What are real are the wonderful, fun memories you can create with your kids when you choose real celebration over irrational fear.