Halloween: A Test Market for Parental Paranoia

Hi Folks! Here’s my Wall Street Journal column from today. Hope the link still works! (Sometimes the Journal only allows the first few graphs for free. Guess we’ll see!) Happy Halloween almost! L.

P.S. I am off to Portland, Ore., to give a lecture, so I’ll be a bit out of pocket. Meantime, I just wanted to say that I’ll be on John Stoessel’s show, which repeats many times over the next few days, talking about the same thing: Parental fears. It was fun!

54 Responses

  1. read this in the journal. Such a great article. My company, Half Shel Entertainment developed a script, loosely based on a John Hughes story in Lampoon that hits all the issues you just mentioned. Still wonder why it hasn’t gotten made but I guess without 3D it’s a tough sell.

    Keep up the great articles.

  2. Link is broken.

  3. Aaaaaah! No fair, you would be speaking within 2 hours driving distance the very DAY my labor is being induced!! *sigh* Have a safe trip and enjoy the rain…

  4. AHHHH you’re going to be HERE?!?!

  5. FANTASTIC article as always, Lenore. But my favorite part of it, of course, is that it’s in the WSJ. That means you’re getting the word out, far beyond those of us who follow your blog faithfully.

  6. Thanks for the link, Valerie.

    We’re looking forward to Halloween here. Our first at this house, and a neighbor told us that lots of trick or treaters come by. She’d better be right, because I bought candy based on that.

    My husband takes the kids out, but I look forward to when my kids start asking to just go with friends… assuming the friends’ parents ever let them go on their own.

  7. As usual, Lenore makes so much common sense that it’s startling in its intelligence and total sensibilities.

    And once again, she is appearing in the Wall Street Journal. Way to go, our hero is making it in the big times, and hence, the free-range cause. You have to be pleased.

    LRH

  8. Where and when are you speaking in Portland?!?

  9. Hello! I immediately stood up and found your blog after reading the WSJ article. Thanks ever so much.

    I was just having this internal debate about whether tomorrow I should let my two boys (7 and 9) goof around without me for a half hour at the baseball field in our neighborhood before their practice — where there are always lots of other kids and folks around. The “Field of Dreams,” as we locals call it, is well-lit, has a snack stand, games and practices by elementary teams every evening,etc. and STILL I wondered to myself if I could be hauled off for negligence, even though my kids can speak and think quite well on their own.

    Well, I am bolstered by your point of view, which is mine as well. Thanks again, Ms. Skenazy. Let people call me a careless slacker, lazy mom or wide-eyed optimist. I know best after all.

  10. I read your piece in the WSJ today. Not sure where you live but in this Chicago burb Halloween is bigger than it’s been in 30 years. Moms, Dads and kids all enjoy it and nobody is freaking out about any of the issues you mentioned. Seems that the real fearmonger is the one accusing the culture of fearmongering!

  11. @steve: my neighbourhood has gone from 200+ trick-or-treaters on halloween to less than 10 in just a decade, largely because of these scare tactics. (and yes, there are just as many kids living there now as there were ten years ago). A few of the parents I’ve spoken to feel that it’s just “safer” to drag their kids to the boring old mall party instead. It’d be great if we could all be like your suburb, but unfortunately Lenore’s article reflects reality for more than a few of us.

  12. Really great article!!! You are the woman!

  13. Loved the article. Thinking about halloween “dangers” reminded me of an old Saturday Night Live sketch from the 70’s. A woman was interviewing a man who owned a costume company and was telling him that his costumes were dangerous. Of course the costumes were incredibly dangerous, my favorite was all black and was called invisible pedestrian🙂

  14. Love ya, Lenore.

    Your’e the best.

  15. Here is a thought… in the 50s women had to defend themselves in the workplace because they were seen as home makers, wives and mothers, but not workforce material.

    Today, now that men are stepping back from helping children for fear of being labeled a pedophile. They’re stepping back from even taking their own children out without their wives because of the looks and assumptions they are subjected to in public.

    If we’re not careful we’ll end up back in a time where women are the only ones suited to look after kids, but this time we’ll be expected to hold down a full time job at the same time.

    Men, step up and don’t take the shit. I’ll happily back you up.

  16. Here’s an encouraging (not!) link from Britain, where we are now being warned of the dangers of bobbing for apples:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-hampshire-11639141

  17. “Parents are warned annually not to let their children wear costumes that are too tight—those could seriously restrict breathing! ”

    Watch that mummy costume. 🙂

  18. My favorite part about the article is where you talk about encouraging children to bring their candy home to be checked by an adult. To quote my dad, in a recent confession: “I never knew what the hell I was supposed to be checking for, so I just looked to see if you had any good candy I could confiscate. Like those tiny little mars bars. Love those.”

  19. This the way i was raised and the way we raised our daughter, born in ’85. She is now a self confident world traveler and quite the fearless person. She’s become street-wise on 4 continents.

  20. Good luck getting facts out on FOX. I’ll have to run the DVR and see if I manage to catch you. Have a great time and a SAFE trip!

  21. This is great, thank you. There’s such a tug-of-war going on for young people — ridiculous overprotection on the one hand and this hideous push forward into adulthood on the other. Both rob them of their childhood, in different ways. Did anyone see any of the latest on “virgin waxing”?
    http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/26182276

    Now that’s something to be afraid of!!!

  22. Fantastic article per usual, and one I’ll be spreading around to everyone I know with an email account. 🙂

    Also, our daughter’s 10, and this is the first year we are sending her out on her own to trick-or-treat. She’s excited, we’re excited, and yay we finally get to stay home to dish out the candy and admire the costumes…but now she can’t find another kid to go with! Because, donchaknow, “OMG what are you THINKING letting her do that?!?! Too dangerous!!!”

    *sigh*

  23. Please don’t bash the Halloween at the mall events! I have good memories of going to the local supermall for candy as they never gave out the usual boring ( or unwrapped in some cases) stuff as people did in my old neighborhood. Also my mother liked it as she would just sit down on a bench and chat with other mothers as I ran about getting candy, toys, and sometimes even a free kids’ size burger from the food courts. It was a safer deal for us kids who were in bad neighborhoods with drug dealers and gangs running about. My mother’s concern was that I could get shot in a drive by shooting, or ran over by a drunk driver if I went out around the block. Trick or Treating at the malls isn’t being a sissy or overprotective as there’s kids like me who grew up in bad neighborhoods where such a thing as walking around at night would have been a hazard.

  24. Here! Here! Loved this article.

  25. I just always find it interesting how Halloween still scares adults. At no other time of year do you see companies and orgs from Energizer to the Amercian Hand Surgeons’ Association pushing safety as much as you do at Halloween. There are hazards associated with Christmas (candles, raw eggs in cookie dough), with outdoor summer holidays (all the camping people do around Memorial Day, labor Day and July 4 and zomgfireworks!). Even an Easter egg hunt can be dangerous (you could trip! and DIE!!!!!!!!) but you don’t hear about it.

    Me, I love halloween. I love passing out candy. I try to make my house progressively spookier each year by scooping up decorations the day after at cut-rate prices. Last year, I spent four hours passing out five pounds of candy, didn’t even get a single Snickers for myself, and still had people knocking on my door after I ran out of candy around 8 p.m. and was forced to shut it down. Great year!

  26. Man. You’ve channeled my internal soapbox to a tee: Over the past two decades adults have managed to effect a hostile takeover of youth sports almost entirely, transforming the joy of spontaneous after-school football games and joyous, meandering hours of driveway “HORSE” competitions into something organized and run by adults, replete with schedules, meetings and org charts distributed via Powerpoint. The real reason boys now spend their lives clattering away at an Xbox? It’s about the only remaining form of parent-free recreation, liberated from supervision, direction, instruction and feedback loops. Anyway, glad to get to know your site and your good work via WSJ. Keep it up!

  27. Hi Lenore,

    Where/when is your talk in Portland? I’d love to attend but couldn’t find any info on it…

    Thanks,
    Michelle

  28. It sure would be nice to know where/when she’s going to be in Portland. Nothing Googles up so far.

    — Steve

  29. I’ll third, or fourth wanting to know where/when you’ll be in Portland.

  30. Lenore, you continue to be my Wonder Woman. Thank you so much for advocating for children and their parents. Hooray for this article! Hooray for YOU!

  31. Hi. I was just “introduced” to you by way of your WSJ article about Stranger Danger being forwarded by a friend. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I thought I was a lone parent out here doing stupid things like letting my kid build forts, swim in the ocean, practice her knife skills in the kitchen, play in a chicken coop, get dirty, etc. I am going to carry the article in my pocket when (alas, I still must), walk along behind her on Halloween night….

  32. Virtually no trick-or-treaters in my neighborhood, so my housemate and I close the blinds and watch TV in the dark. That’s a bummer because I always loved Halloween.

    In addition to malls, sometimes in university towns you can find “trick or treating floors” in the dorms, or at the frats & sororities. The college kids make a huge fuss over the costumed pipsqueaks, and the little kids love being fussed over by the big kids!

  33. Great article! I have (kind of) funny story to share. My husband and I made a fantastic muppet/monster costume for my 10 month old son. When I showed a picture of my son (who was clearly overjoyed) wearing it, one my co-workers responded immediately “I was just reading about how flammable kid’s costumes are at Halloween” Sigh.

    I responded by pointing out that I would not be dangling him over a fireplace or letting him wear his costume unsupervised because of his age (and rolling my eyes).

  34. My husband doesn’t realize (apparently) that I read your blog. He forwarded me your WSJ article today, with a note: “Good article.” ;D

  35. Do any of your neighborhoods’ have a “Trunk-or-Treat”? Or is that just Utah?

  36. Out here in Boston, some areas are going to fine and kids over 13 who are trick or treating $152. Question, most young people don’t have ID, how are they going to distinguish between the 13 who has a major growth spurt and the 17 year old who still looks 13, that was me btw. Thanks Lenore for trying to bring some fun back to halloween.

  37. There are “trunk-or-treats” here is CA, but put on by the Mormon Churches…so it’s pretty much the same thing.

  38. I read the journal. I understand it’s safe. And, um, um, um…

    *cowers in corner*

    I still have an impulse to search the candy. Not that I think it’s unsafe, but moreso that it’s tradition, for me, to sit at the kitchen table ready to pounce at the snack sized snickers as my mom search them for needle marks. I guess that’s a bit sick, eh?

    One thing I will say, is the reflective tape (or flashlights or whatever) on trick or treaters’ costumes (especially on dark colors worn at night) is probably the only good idea you can get from all this fear mongering. I say this after almost hitting someone who was wearing black pants and a black hoodie, who I didn’t see until he was WAY too close to my car for comfort.

  39. I loved the fact that Stranger Danger was mentioned. It is hard to go trick or treating when you are taught that strangers and candy are no good, but Halloween is different.

  40. Sex Offenders Targeted in ‘Operation Safe Sweets’
    Updated 9:24 AM EDT, Thu, Oct 28, 2010

    Print Share Buzz up!0diggsdigg

    Smiling mom Sue Mavaro was hunting for costumes for her teenage son at the Magic Shop in Hicksville; but when asked, admitted that Halloween isn’t her favorite day.

    “Halloween just scares me because its a night when people think they can do whatever they want,” said the mother of three from North Massapequa.

    Those who track sex offenders share the same concerns.

    “The real Halloween monsters aren’t wearing costumes,” said child advocate Laura Ahearn. “They look just like you and me.”

    Again, this year, Nassau county is launching an all out effort to shield young trick-or-treaters from sex offenders. It’s called “Operation Safe Sweets.”

    More than two dozen probation officers will fan out across Nassau to visit the homes of all 200 sex offenders now on probation in the county. Their aim is to make sure sex offenders are staying away from kids.

    Halloween is supposed to be off limits to most sex offenders, probation officials said. Some are not even allowed to put out decorations.

    “Just a pumpkin on the front steps could be reason enough for us to have a discussion with an offender,” said Nassau county’s acting probation director, John Fowle.

    The home visits make a difference, according to Fowle. One year, he says, probation officers found a sex offender working in a costume shop. He was immediately hauled into court and a GPS tracking device was ordered strapped to his leg.

    “Typically, sex offenders will do whatever they can to access children and get to know them,” warned Ahearn of the non-profit, Parents for Megan’s Law.

    Parents can visit that group’s website (ParentsForMegansLaw.org) and actually determine if and where sex offenders are living in their neighborhood.

    Steer kids away from those homes, urges Ahearn. And keep close to kids while they are trick-or-treating, especially when they are interacting with adults.

    “That’s what I do,” said grandmother Lily Arnold.

    “It’s good that parents and older people go with kids to make sure they are safe.”

  41. “Typically, sex offenders will do whatever they can to access children and get to know them,” warned Ahearn of the non-profit, Parents for Megan’s Law.”

    Typically, sex offenders like to eat and pay the rent, so they get jobs wherever they can.

    Are sex offenders now going to be restricted to working in liquor stores and auto parts stores? (Actually, if they’re on probation or parole the liquor stores are out, so….) Did it ever occur to these people that kids shop in almost all kinds of stores — there’s nothing about a costume shop that gives greater access to kids than a Walmart. Maybe even less — my kids go to Walmart alone (it’s a 1/4 miles away) but it would be rare for them to go to any kind of specialty store alone.

    It’s one thing to limit sex offenders (assuming they’re actual CHILD sex offenders) from working in daycare or teaching or candy shops, but barring them from any and all retail jobs at places that sell things that kids like is absurd.

  42. This article perfectly reflects my attitude while I was raising my kids. I knew they were smart and self reliant and I believed they told me about everything they did.
    I was wrong. My 10 year old daughter made a new “friend” in our neighborhood who wanted to have a “secret” relationship with her. He told her not to tell anybody, not even her mom, that it would be “fun”. You can guess the rest. Never in a million years did I think something like this would happen to my family.
    No matter what you think, there are plenty of sexual predators out there and most of them are never caught because people don’t like to think it’s real. They love articles like this!

  43. I’d like to know if the guy “hauled into court” because he worked for a costume shop actually DID anything inappropriate to any customers of said costume shop.

    And don’t these guys have probation agents? That they report to on a regular basis, including telling them that they’re employed, and where? You’d think if there was a problem with working at a costume shop, his agent would have been all over that. I think I call bs on that particular part of the story in the absence of any proof that it happened.

    (Actually, I call bs on the whole story….)

  44. Good point, Beth — how would this scenario have gone down, anyway? Going into all the costume shops, asking the employees for ID, and running them? Somehow I doubt that. Maybe the parole officer was checking on his clients, and found one working in a costume shop. But still, I find it objectionable that someone would be barred from working somewhere just because some of the things they sell are usually sold to kids — and in fact, usually sold to their parents. As I said, it’s one thing to restrict them working somewhere where there is constant, close interaction with kids or the kind of place where kids could be expected to frequent on their own — it’s another to restrict them from working somewhere just because it’s somewhere kids might like to shop with their parents.

  45. U.S. Marshals’ ‘Operation Trick No Treat’ nets sex offenders

    Given there is zero reason to have U.S. Marshals doing this, my guess is they are trying to justify their existence, esp. with crime being down nationally.
    10-30-2010 New Jersey:

    A squad of armed officers got a jump on Halloween this week, sweeping up more than a dozen unregistered sex offenders in North Jersey during “Operation Trick No Treat.”

    It was the first time out of the box for a new unit, the Sex Offender Investigations Branch of the U.S. Marshals Service. And it began with 61 case files of people convicted of raping, molesting or fondling minors or adults.

    Of the sixty-one cases, an administrative ‘filtering process’ closed 24 cases: The offenders were either dead, locked up or in the hands of other jurisdictions.

    “…or in the hands of other jurisdictions.” In other words, they had legally moved and for unmentioned reasons, the records were not updated by the police, which lead to them being listed as non-compliant. The failure of registering agencies, or computer programming, cost taxpayers.
    The squad then tracked down the 37 others, completing 235 early-morning compliance checks, leading to 14 arrests.

    14 arrests, that means 5.9% of their registrants were out of compliance. That number keeps coming up no matter whether it is compliance or recidivism.
    All were charged with failing to register and/or failure to verify address change, under Megan‘s Law.

    In addition to the arrests, the Marshals Service said, “leads were developed and forwarded to other agencies for enforcement.”

    Forty officers in all participated — from agencies that included the Hudson, Passaic and Morris county prosecutor’s offices, Port Authority police, the state Corrections Department, and Paterson and Newark police, among others.

    The unit’s mission is to protect the public from sex offenders and offenders against children by assisting jurisdictions in locating and apprehending sex offenders who violate sex offender registration requirements.

  46. Great article with lots of rational comments. There is one from the “other side” I sort of agree with.

    I will probably trick or treat with my kids as long as they will let me. We don’t live in a neighborhood so we’ll probably have to go near my parents (who also never get trick or treaters). So unless I go with the kids, I won’t get any real Halloween fun.

    But I will be willing to give it up when they ask for the independence. But I’m sure I won’t be happy about it.

  47. Where are you speaking in Portland? Have we missed it already? I am just outside of Portland, in Beaverton.

    Until yesterday we kept all of our Halloween decor secret. I literally took two days off of work to set up our garage for our haunted party, last night I opened the garage door to extend the decorations out front. Now, its no Davis Graveyard but it is a lot of fun. This is our first year in a house, much less a typical neighborhood, so no one here knows what to expect.

    Last year our second story apartment saw no less than 300 trick or treaters, most of whom came from other neighborhoods because each year our place got more and more attention. We break all the rules. We do not simply give candy at the door, you have to come in. Yes IN a strangers home. Parents often escort, and parents are given a treat. Last year it was hot cider and red velvet cupcakes with chocolate brains on top for moms and dads.

    We view Halloween as a day to be involved with your community, to open your home and show them that you ARE a part of the community and not someone to be feared. Tonight we will be grilling hot dogs, simmering chili, we have hot cocoa on hand, I’ve even made my special pumpkin butter to share and every one is invited into our little garage to join in the fun, or even hide from the rain for a few minutes.

    One neighbor saw me decorating the front of the house this morning and came over to say how excited she was to see it. In fact a lot of neighbors went on late night “walks” in the rain last night to check it out. My husband and I want to bring back the joy of Halloween, to breathe some life into our new neighborhood and show our kids how wonderful it can be to open your arms and home to the people you share your town with.

  48. The Sociologist you quote as saying “We still buy it, even though Joel Best, a sociologist at the University of Delaware, has researched the topic and spends every October telling the press that there has never been a single case of any child being killed by a stranger’s Halloween candy.” Must not know how to use Google news archive search.

    Just use three words- Detroit Halloween Candy

    And you get this- http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=shosAAAAIBAJ&sjid=1sgEAAAAIBAJ&pg=5764,1122733&dq=detroit+halloween+candy&hl=en

    Heroin laced Candy kills Detroit Boy.

    I was nine years old but saw the article back then in a NY area newspaper.

    b

  49. @Random: Her event has unfortunately come and gone, and it was private anyhow.

    I’m in Beaverton too– E-mail me at v9utjpxxzu@snkmail.com with your neighborhood name. Maybe I’m close enough to bring the family over for a visit!

    (Note to spammers: that address will be turned off next week, so don’t bother…)

    — Steve

  50. Oh man, wish I had checked last night! I would have been able to send you the information in time. We’re near the theater on Jenkins… if you had that info last night we would have been real easy to locate. Next year I will post the location (general info of course) here for everyone in the area to come by. It was great, lots of kids and parents.🙂

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