Lew experienced his first trick-or-treating this Halloween. We practiced all month, handing him things to collect in his personalized pumpkin. We dressed him up as a cowboy and I bought a huge bag candy for the kids in our neighborhood.
In some ways, this was our first trick-or-treating night as well. Since we’ve been married, we’ve always lived in apartment buildings, but recently moved to a duplex in a residential neighborhood and I was ecstatic about the prospect of trick-or-treaters.
Come 5:30 p.m. we’re all dressed and ready to go, but our neighborhood is deserted. Perplexed and disappointed, we ended up walking to a nearby neighborhood and trick-or-treating there. It was fine, but it wasn’t technically our neighborhood, or our neighbors.
On the way back we circled our neighborhood once. No children, but there were some neighbors who desperately wanted to give candy, to say hello. One neighbor even thanked us for coming out, calling us “brave” parents. Back at our own house, I got one lone trick-or-treater with her father who I begged to take fistfuls of candy.
Maybe all the parents take their kids to the “nicer” neighborhoods or maybe they do keep their kids inside, deciding that it is too dangerous, or too much work, that trick-or-treating at businesses or schools or churches is better, safer.
I really don’t have anything against these organized trick-or-treats. I grew-up in a rural area so I attend a lot of school and church activities, but I always envied the kids that lived in the neighborhoods, that rode bikes together down the street, that played in each other’s back yards till dinner and that trick-or-treated together.
But it seems that most of this free child play is disappearing across the neighborhoods, and with it a sense of neighborliness, and what’s more, a sense of children’s independence.
Last year, our neighbor said, she got three trick-or-treaters, this year one–us. My sister, who lives in a idyllic neighborhood in Oregon said she also got less trick-or-treaters than last year. Her guess is that parents are tired since the downtown does a trick-or-treating that night.
Of course parents could let their kids trick-or-treat by themselves, but what was once a classic childhood tradition now seems eminently dangerous, and what’s more, actually illegal in some areas of our country.
“Halloween is the perfect Petri dish for observing what we have done to childhood” says Lenore Skenazy & Jonathan Haidt in their article “The Fragile Generation.” In this article they go on to explain how a combination of “bad policy and paranoid parenting are making kids to safe to succeed.”
After school kids don’t ride bikes together in their neighborhood, they do homework. On the weekends they don’t have hours of free play, they go to organized activities led by adults. And they certainly don’t go trick-or-treating by themselves, instead they are constantly warned about the dangers of strangers, even next-store neighbors.
Besides the excuse to dress my child up as a cowboy, another reason I was excited about trick-or-treating was the chance to meet our neighbors. Halloween is a perfect excuse to knock on a neighbor’s door, to start a conversation. And in our walk through our neighborhood we actually did make some new friends, another family with two little girls.
I truly don’t think that the desire for neighborliness has disappeared. But like children’s free play and independence, you have to be intentional. And maybe it all can start again with Halloween and three simple words, “trick-or-treat.”