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How Old Is Too Old To Trick or Treat?

Where I live, most of the Halloween night inflation--a positively soaring number of kids out there on candy acquisition duty--has come in the form of swarming packs of little kids, decked out primarily in very traditional costumes--superheros, angels, ghosts, Potters, witches and other storybook figures.

But as the evening progresses and the stock of candy dwindles, we've noticed a pretty steady stream of older--much older--kids coming to the door. Teenagers. Which I say without dread or derision, especially because I have a couple such creatures resident in my own house. But the kids and my wife and I have been having this debate: How old is too old for trick or treating?

My 13-year-old says 15 or 16 is tops. My 17-year-old argues that she's still a kid and still loves Halloween and should be allowed to make the neighborhood rounds as long as she's willing to dress up and get on out there. Some of her friends think she needs to grow out of it; others agree with her; still others just like candy.

They've been having this debate in Belleville, Ill., where they took the topic a bit more seriously than anyone in my house has. They passed a law: They banned any kid who has finished eighth grade from going door to door to hit people up for candy. The offense is punishable by a $25 fine assessed against the parents who allow this sort of behavior.

I kid you not: Here's the link. Apparently, folks in the town were miffed to find fully grown semi-adults arriving to demand Mounds bars--particularly if they showed up after the oh-so-late hour of 9 p.m. No, that's not a typo.

At some age and size, kids do seem too old for this. But in an era when the consensus seems to be that kids are exposed to too much adult stuff too early, there's a strong tug toward letting them be kids a bit longer. On the other hand, a big complaint from many parents of older kids is that they are too coddled these days and need to be pushed toward more adult roles.

What age kids make you at all uncomfortable when they show up at the door? At what age did you start to feel strange making the Halloween rounds? Short of passing any kind of municipal ordinance, at what age would you recommend kids save the costume for a party of their own and buy their own dang candy (or steal it from their younger sibs)?

By Marc Fisher |  October 30, 2008; 4:02 PM ET
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I went trick-or-treating all the way through high school. Mostly because my parents never took me as a child. I had to wait until I was old enough to go by myself (maybe 12?), so I had a lot of catching up to do. Anyway, by the time my friends and I were 16, we realized we were probably too old. So, we needed to take a kid. Then, it was 5 or 6 high schoolers and someone's 10 year old sister. We felt like that made it ok.

Posted by: SweetieJ | October 30, 2008 4:29 PM

We get older kids, too, generally 16 or 17 year olds who don't bother to dress up and are too cool to utter the words "trick or treat" (they just grunt and thrust a bag at us). And we give them candy--the "special" candy that we keep for years and years just for them. I think we bought it in, oh, maybe 1999?

Posted by: ltwd | October 30, 2008 4:49 PM

I don't mind older kids trick-or-treating. It's when they don't bother to put on a costume or make any attempt to be "kid-like" that it irks me.

Posted by: ljindc | October 30, 2008 4:52 PM

Actually, my major complaint is with the parents who trick or treat. Last year we just told them no, we don't give out candy to adults, and we got several angry looks. The Washington Post really should publish Halloween information for people who are so confused they think they get candy.

I also hate the adults who steal decorations off people's lawns, but the police never showed up, it's not like they were going to get caught or anything.

Posted by: bbcrock | October 30, 2008 4:56 PM

I recall trick or treating into my early teens, but not after I had a driver's license.

We would go a little later (certainly not 9pm) and people would usually be glad to give us the last of whatever candy they had leftover from the kiddies earlier.

Posted by: MStreet1 | October 30, 2008 5:04 PM

I don't particularly care about the age of trick-or-treaters. But nine o'clock seems plenty late enough (hey, I've got taverns I need to get to!), and I definitely get irked at folks who can't be bothered with a costume.

Posted by: bobsewell | October 30, 2008 5:06 PM

What if a kid in Belleville, Ill. had skipped a grade or two and got legislated out of a few years of tricks-or-treats? What a bummer. Personally, I'd be willing to give candy to anyone in costume that knocked on my door. The better the costume, the more candy I'd dish out. Viva Halloween!

Posted by: frog7694 | October 30, 2008 5:20 PM

And on the flip side, there could be a kid that flunks 8th grade repeatedly, drops out when they turn 16 and can trick-or-treat into their golden years! I like that idea. That's Sticking it The Man, Great Pumpkin style!

Posted by: frog7694 | October 30, 2008 5:26 PM

My wife and I have had teenagers comming by on Halloween. Most of them are teenagers in the neighborhood that we know. The usually show up with a bag and a sheepish grin. Every year we would laugh and ask 'Aren't you too old for treat or treating?' and give them some candy. We find this makes the teenagers very friendly toward the year round. Having teenagers smile, call you by name, and wish you a good morning or afternoon is well worth the price of a few pieces of candy.

Posted by: Jimof1913 | October 30, 2008 5:33 PM

What I hate is the high-school kids who DON'T dress up yet expect you to give them candy anyway (and most folks do for fear they'll egg your house if you tell them to get lost). I used to enjoy answering the door on Halloween; I'd wear all black and put on a mask depicting Gene Simmons of KISS (the guy with the tongue). Some of the little kids used to start crying because it scared them, although to their credit no parent ever got mad at me (most of them laughed and told their kids that the grown-ups should get to have fun too). But the high-school kids ruined it for me between their surly "gimme candy" attitude and their feeling that vandalizing things (like, say, my neighbor's car) is acceptable. So I don't take part anymore--I darken all the lights in the house even if I'm home because I understand that the "rule" is still the same as when I was a kid that if the house is dark, you don't ring that doorbell.

"bbcrock" raises a new one for me--I've NEVER heard of parents trick-or-treating in any way other than to keep an eye on their kids (and the ones I thought did it right are the ones who stand back at the sidewalk while the kids go up to the door).

The one thing I AM thinking about doing this Halloween is going out tomorrow morning, getting a big sheet of poster board, making a sign, and hanging it at the entrance to the neighborhood. It would say "SLOW THE HELL DOWN--KIDS ARE OUT TONIGHT." It annoys me any time people bomb down 25-mph residential streets at 40 mph, but on Halloween I find it infuriating since everyone knows kids don't look before they run out into the street.

Posted by: 1995hoo | October 30, 2008 5:50 PM

IMO, if you're in high-school, the only reason you should be out trick-or-treating is if you are accompanying younger children (such as your younger siblings and their friends) in doing the rounds. This way, you get to have your fun (and your costumes and candy) while taking some "grown-up" responsibilty by chaperoning the youngsters.

Or better yet, find a local youth group or community group and help them do a haunted house for local kids to enjoy.

High-schoolers out trick-or-treating on their own seems ludicrous to me and I wouldn't be terribly pleased to see them on my front porch.

Posted by: gasdorian | October 30, 2008 5:59 PM

When I was a kid, anyone who went trick-or-treating past the age of 12 was considered lame - we didn't want anything to do with that "childish" stuff. At that point, you got to take over the job of distribution.

Posted by: EinDC | October 30, 2008 6:06 PM

I went through elementary school. After that, it's a way to get free candy, and nothing more-- and kids these days have more disposable income from their parents than we did (darn it all). All in all, trick or treating is passé. Fewer and fewer kids do it, so I stopped buying candy. Besides, with growing awareness of obesity and dental problems, why hassle?

Posted by: Sutter | October 30, 2008 7:47 PM


How about drinking some poison so that bug up your a** will die....I mean c'mon...ban them after the 8th grade ...jeez...

Posted by: andio76 | October 30, 2008 7:58 PM

It's not the older kids' age that irks's what time they come by. Two years ago I had a crew of teens knock on my door at 9:30 - long after I'd brought in the pumpkins, turned off the porch light, and sent my then-kindergartner to bed.

There is such a thing as Halloween etiquette. When I was a kid I knew to leave undisturbed houses with unlit porch lights, and to get home by eight (school nights) or nine at the latest. I went trick-or-treating as a teen, but only to shepherd younger kids.

Posted by: CynthiaBC1 | October 30, 2008 8:19 PM

I vote 16: once you've got a driver's license, you can go buy your own candy and are too old to have to go door-to-door for it.

Posted by: 7900rmc | October 30, 2008 8:33 PM

As long as they dress up and follow the rules, I have no problem with older kids trick or treating. I went along with my friend and her younger siblings my senior year of high school. The little ones were cover so we wouldn't look like we were out for ourselves.

Stealing for your friend's kids bag just is not as much fun as going out yourself.

Posted by: epjd | October 30, 2008 8:34 PM

ltwd - your comment wins! I may have to start stashing some just for that purpose

When I was a kid I stopped trick or treating once I got braces since I couldn't eat most of it.

Posted by: kanneg | October 30, 2008 9:16 PM

As long as you're in costume, you're never too old. And if you don't have a costume, but you have a clever and funny gag, you're OK too.

Posted by: comesthesun1 | October 30, 2008 9:43 PM

Geez people! Lighten up! I mean really! I agree that if you dress up then you should get candy regardless of age.

Posted by: kittyleo22 | October 31, 2008 1:13 AM

hey we have only in the last few years taken on this american custom of trick or treat, and we have only little ones doing it. i cant imagine high school kids trick or treating. i think we would tell them to bugger off, being Aussies and all...

Posted by: sandrarajakhotmailcom | October 31, 2008 5:59 AM

Hey every once in Blue Moon on Halloween I will go trick treating with my beer mug or high abll glass.

And some of the hot mom's in the neighborhood like to come over for some treats and to model their Halloween cosumtes from Agent Provocateur while hubby
is out taking the kids out trick treating.
I love their goody bags!

Posted by: omarthetentmaker | October 31, 2008 8:05 AM

When the teens show up at the door without a costume then the trick is on them:

They want candy, they perform for everybody close by, usually by singing the Barney Song (I love you, you love me ...)

Sometimes they claim they don't know the words. I give them a hand-out with the words printed for them.

We haven't had anybody get too upset yet and we have found a few kids with decent voices too. One year we had four kids sing the song in four part harmony. They got extra candy.

Posted by: SoMD1 | October 31, 2008 8:31 AM

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