Let Them Eat That Unwrapped Candy!


 I’m so old I remember back when Halloween was supposed to scare the kids.

Now it’s got a lot of parents shaking in their schlocky costumes, terrified that if they let their kids go trick or treating those kids may meet a fate far worse than too many Mary Janes. (“The candy everyone wishes was something else.” That should be its slogan.)

Parents worry their kids will be abducted, of course, or seduced inside for some Satanic rite. They worry the kids will come home with a big, shiny apple and fail to notice the big, razor-sized gash in its side. Most of all, they worry about unwrapped candy – as if any killer really bent on poisoning moppets would be stupid enough not to carefully glue-gun shut his tainted Snickers.

The thing that’s really spooky about all these fears is how gullible the parents are. I spoke with Joel Best, a sociologist who has studied post-Halloween newspapers going back to the 1950s, searching for stories of kiddie crimes. As far as he can tell, no child was EVER poisoned by a stranger’s candy on Halloween. It’s an urban myth. And in fact, the evidence was so convincing to him, he never looked through his own children’s candy before he let them eat it. (Or, for that matter, before he ate it himself.)

Read almost any parenting article today and they will beg you to please, PLEASE examine those treats for tampering. Keep Poison Control’s number handy.  Better still: Just take your child to a Halloween party someplace you trust and don’t let them visit the (probably insane psycho-killing) neighbors at all. The only safe kid is the one kept in a pumpkin.

Provided there’s no candle inside, of course. And that you remove child before carving.



Serial Killers and You: A Match Made In Fiction

By Leonard Cassuto

Note to readers: Cassuto is an English professor at Fordham University and Author of the just released, “Hard-Boiled Sentimentality: The Secret History of American Crime Stories.”


Today’s hyper-vigilant parenting is haunted by a figure behind the curtain: the serial killer.  He’s the boogeyman that slinks through every parent’s nightmares, the predator on the prowl, looking for unattended children.  But how real is the serial killer?


Yes, serial killers really exist in the world.  But they also exist in the entertainment world—where they’re much more real.  Hannibal Lecter is the most famous serial killer ever, but he’s imaginary.  So is Buffalo Bill, the other serial killer from The Silence of the Lambs.  These two, and their many knockoffs, helped make the serial killer into America’s most popular monster.


But let’s talk real life.  A person’s chances of becoming the victim of a serial killer are two in a million.  Imagine a typical football stadium on game day, filled with people.  Now imagine nineteen more like it.  That’s a million people.


You or your child have about the same chance of being struck by lightning as of being murdered by a serial killer. In fact, you have less chance of being murdered, because lightning strikes randomly. Serial killers don’t.


Most real-life serial killers target society’s outsiders: prostitutes, the homeless, hustlers, and the like.  On the very rare occasions when a serial killer targets middle class people (young or not), it gets people’s attention because it’s so atypical.  Think of Ted Bundy or Son of Sam: these aren’t ordinary serial killers.  That’s why they get the headlines. 


The serial killers in novels and movies are unrealistic precisely because they target middle-class people.  The victims in serial killer books are always people in families because that makes for better suspense.  But that’s not the way that serial killers operate in real life. For regular people living regular middle-class lives, even the two-in-a-million figure is probably too high.


The fear of serial killers is fueled by unquestioned anxiety.  It’s an interesting question why these kinds of stories have become so popular — and if you’re interested in why, you should read my new book, Hard-Boiled Sentimentality: The Secret History of American Crime Stories.http://www.lcassuto.com/books/hard-boiled-sentimentality-the-secret-history-of-american-crime-stories


It’s worth keeping in mind the difference between overheated imagination and real life when it comes to bringing up children.   After all, that’s supposed to be what we’re teaching them. –



So in England a woman named Susie Dent publishes a book, “Words of the Year,” every, well, year. The latest edition just came out and in addition to winners like “boytox” (Botox for men) and “momnesia,” defined as “a mother’s forgetfulness in the first year after a child’s birth,” (which isn’t nearly long enough), you will find “free range kid.”

Here’s the definition:

free range kid – a child given lots of free time during the day to do whatever she or he chooses, rather than having a rigid schedule of tennis lessons, extra maths etc. The term was coined by US journalist Lenore Skenazy who has a blog subtitled ‘Let’s give our children the freedom we had’. A free range kid certainly doesn’t have a

helicopter mom – one who is always hovering round her children, afraid that they’ll hurt themselves or get abducted

That about sums it up, right? Now let’s just hope “Free Range” becomes as commonplace as “metrosexual.” But, of course, not the same thing.

(For more linguistic fun from England, check out http://virtuallinguist.typepad.com/the_virtual_linguist/2008/10/words-of-the-year.html)


The old joke — never that funny, actually — is about a rich lady who takes her grown son on a vacation to Florida. When she gets to the hotel, she lavishly tips the bellhop to pull her son out of the limo and carry him upstairs.

“Can’t your son walk?” the bellhop asks.

“Of course he can!” says the mother. “But thank God, he doesn’t have to.”

Now fast forward to the bus stop of a typical American suburb. The time is 3:30 p.m. and a couple of cars sit idling. (Let’s not even get into the Al Gore aspect of this.) At last the school bus arrives, dropping off moppets aged 6 or 8 or even 12. Said moppets dive into the car that’s waiting for them — driven by mom, dad or a nanny — and a couple of blocks later, usually after insisting the radio station be changed to Disney, they are safely back home.

Can’t  these children walk? Of course they can! But thanks to an increasingly warped view of what makes for a good American childhood  — and a good American parent — they don’t have to.

Now, forget all the clamor about how fat our kids are getting, and how out of shape. Let’s talk about what this personal limo service does to their view of the world. When parents pick their kids up from the bus stop, those kids are left to assume it is wrong for them to even consider walking home. It must be too hard, too dangerous, too strenuous – too impossible for someone their age. Message from parents: You’re a wonderful, amazing, precious person!

But you’re not up to a two block walk.

Sift through the emails on this blog and you’ll find tails of parents picking up their kids from the bus stop even when it is on the same side of the street as their home — even when it’s on the same block as their home. Some parents pick up their kids in golf carts, because they live in a gated community — presumably gated to keep the traffic (white slave and otherwise) out. So these are not just parents worried about cars or creeps. These are parents worried about allowing their children to take even one, single, cul-de-sac step without adult supervision.

Obviously, they’re only trying to do what’s best for their kids. But the “what’s best” job description is expanding so much that pretty soon, concerned parents are going to be cutting their teenagers’ food for them. (Oh. You already do?)

When most of us walked to the bus stop as kids, it wasn’t because our parents were negligent or unloving. They simply trusted us and our neighborhoods.

Today, believe it or not, our neighborhoods are no less safe. Nationally, the violent crime rate is back down to what it was in 1970 (and lower than it was in the ’80s). So there’s no reason not to trust our towns.

That leaves our kids. Why don’t we trust THEM? Were we so much stronger, faster and smarter? Are Americans, in fact, de-evolving? This seems unlikely. (Until you watch reality TV.)

October 8th was “International Walk to School Day,” and I’m very sorry I missed it. But maybe it’s time for Walk to School Month. Or at least Walk to the Bus to the School Month.

Can’t your children be chauffeured to and from the bus stop? Of course they can. But thank God, they don’t have to be.