(An article I wrote for a parent newsletter.)
It is really cute seeing that autumn is here! Pumpkins are sitting around storefronts and fuzzy spiders are seen crawling about. And the seasonal spooky holiday is great child-centric fun– Trick-or-treating, dressing up in costume, carving pumpkins, and more. When I first participated in Halloween, I was still confused about idioms, cultural references, and other uniquely American things. And on one Halloween I discovered the exotic regional tradition of collecting candy from the neighborhood. It IS pretty unique when you think about it!
Halloween is an opportunity for children to enjoy themselves doing things that are typically forbidden: staying up late, walking around at night, talking to strangers, and taking candy from strangers. Anything so forbidden is definitely exciting! It revolves around role-play and fantasy in illusions of danger, fostering play and imagination, as well as building courage and confidence. It also gives children a chance to meet their neighbors and become familiar with their community. And despite that Halloween is also a devil-worshipping, diabetes-inducing, full-blown pedo-palooza, most children return unscathed after their adventures.
But sometimes people in developed countries watch too many sensational dramas, and want to pretend they are living an action-packed television show. Unable to find car bomb games, alien invasion saga, or tsunami 3D among neatly paved sidewalks and flower-lined shopping malls, first-world adults start having their own fantasy frights on Halloween– And it can wreck killjoy to children. Does that ninja mask provide adequate ventilation? Is that Rapunzel’s wig drooping over her eyes and obstructing her vision? Is that Superman wearing a construction-grade reflective fluorescent vest with flashing lights? Do not forget flashlights! Never trust your children’s eyes natural ability to see in the dark if those flashlights go out. Has that chaperone had a background check? What? Having no chaperone is unspeakable. These are your typical “Halloween safety tips.” So stay alert– It is Paris 1786 and your children are about to scavenge the catacombs for scraps of food.
Truth of the matter is, the real dangers of Halloween are not homemade treats, demons or decorative headless things, plastic pumpkins or even candlelit ones. There is no Halloween-time phenomenon of children chocking themselves on superhero capes or fatally bumping into inflatable ghouls. The danger is not even the mythical tainted candy! While “razor blades in apples” make for a sensational read, it cheapens the real danger a child –or anyone– faces on Halloween. Tragically, the number of children hurt in automobile accidents doubles on Halloween, and car crashes are already the number one threat to children in America. Yet driving is so common that “trunk and treat” events are commonplace in suburban areas.
But the solution to conquering treats in trunks and overall worries over your children is to just use sense. Simple: Don’t eat molded candy, look both ways, and be a careful driver. You do not even need a construction-grade reflective fluorescent vest with flashing lights! Don’t worry– A flame retardant costume will not give your child cancer, and a non-flame retardant one will not turn him into a fireball. And along with pumpkin carving and costume making, hopefully the tradition of trick-or-treating continues, with children creating their own scary mischief, instead of Halloween disintegrating into adult-orchestrated nothingness.
We big people assume we always think rationally and clearly. Yet on Halloween, I think adults see more imaginary dark figures lurking in the shadows than any child bravely waddling the local catacombs to get his candies.