How Old Is Too Old to Trick-or-Treat?

Trick-or-treat age limit laws aren't just Halloween hoopla. Depending on where you live, it may be illegal to let your teen take part in the fun. Here's what to know, plus advice on when your kiddo is old enough to trick-or-treat alone.

Kids wearing halloween costumes holding trick or treat buckets
Photo: Getty Images

With Halloween just around the corner, families across the country are prepping spooky decorations, stocking up on candy, and getting everyone's costume finalized. And before you know it, millions of trick-or-treaters will be out knocking on doors to procure as much candy as humanly possible—then trying to eat it all in one night. But is your kid too old to partake in the fun this year?

When kids are young, the idea of a trick-or-treat age is a non-issue. Even the littlest pumpkins delight in dressing up on the spookiest night of the year. And what school-age kid doesn't love staying up after dark to explore neighborhoods full of witches and monsters? But those in-between tween and teen ages can cause some mixed feelings among holiday purists who think the great candy grab should be little-kids only.

Here's what you need to know as a parent before letting your older kids trick-or-treat this year.

Trick-or-Treat Age Limit Laws

In general, many believe the trick-or-treat age shouldn't extend into the teen years. Some cities and towns even have an actual trick-or-treat law that places an age limit on trick-or-treating. Yes, really.

For example, Chesapeake, Virginia, limits trick-or-treating to kids 14 and under, and older trick-or-treaters can actually be charged with a Class 4 misdemeanor. Other cities in Virginia have similar trick-or-treat age limit laws in place; Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Norfolk, and more prohibit trick-or-treating after age 12. Kids in Newport News who are 12 or above are allowed to accompany younger siblings but can't wear a mask.

Upper Deerfield Township, New Jersey, has had a trick-or-treat age law for over 30 years that advises against trick-or-treating for kids over 12 (though action has never been taken). The law in Belleville, Illinois, where it's actually called Halloween Solicitation, forbids children over age 12 from wearing a mask, and those in 9th grade or above can't "appear on the streets, highways, public homes, private homes, or public places in the city to make trick-or-treat visitations."

Similarly, Charleston, South Carolina, restricts trick-or-treating for teens over 16, who also aren't allowed to wear a mask in public places.

A nationwide "official" trick-or-treat age limit is clearly a fraught issue with no clear answer. Municipalities with age-restricting laws say it's in the interest of public safety, but many parents of tweens and teens disagree. The sentiment that teens, if not trick-or-treating, might get up to more dangerous activities on Halloween night is common, while parents of young children may worry that their little ones' magical night might be ruined by rambunctious teenagers.

Is Your Teen 'Too Old' for Trick-or-Treating?

In places with age-restricting laws, families might not have much choice about when to stop trick-or-treating. If you have a tween too old to head out on Halloween this year, maybe opt to throw a party instead, then enlist their help passing out candy.

But for those who can choose, it may be tough to determine when older kids should age out. Vanessa Lapointe, registered psychologist and author of Parenting Right From the Start, suggests parents think very carefully before bringing up the topic with their kids.

"Really sit with, as a parent, whether you are making this decision for your child or for the people handing out candy who might be giving you a dirty look because they think your kid is too old," says Dr. Lapointe. The decision should always be made with your children, keeping their needs and wants in mind.

For parents trying to determine if the Halloween magic is gone for their older kids, Dr. Lapointe says to consider each child individually. "Children are so unique from one to the next that there could be a few years between when two children of the same age are done with trick-or-treating." While one 13-year-old may prefer spending the evening handing out candy with parents, another may want to dress-up and participate in trick-or-treating. It's important not to make blanket age-related judgments.

Dr. Lapointe also points out that every accommodation should be made for children with special needs. "Many children with special needs are developmentally much younger than they appear. It is about developmental age and stage, rather than chronological age and stage," she explains. To those who may answer the door on Halloween, she urges, "Have heart and welcome them to your doorstep. Remember too that not all developmental differences are visible, so go with the flow and trust that parents have made the right call in having their child out for the evening."

What Age Can Kids Trick-or-Treat Alone?

Another question parents face this time of year: When can kids go trick-or-treating alone? Trick-or-treating with a group of peers can make for a fun and confidence-building night for kids, but for some parents, the accompanying worry may not be worth it.

"Consider the different decisions your child will need to make," says Dr. Lapointe. "From crossing very busy streets in the dark, mingling with large crowds of happy trick-or-treaters, and coming into contact with older teens or adults out enjoying the Halloween festivities in a very different kind of way." Again, laws in some places may limit the ability of kids to go out alone on Halloween, but if it's legal, special consideration should be taken before the decision is made.

Parents may consider giving kids a communication device like a cell phone. The ability to check in on your child and the knowledge that they can contact you if there's a problem might provide peace of mind.

The Bottom Line

All children, despite their age, should have to opportunity to celebrate Halloween, but it's up to parents to help them determine what that means. Every family and every child are different, and we all need to remember that childhood doesn't end when kids reach a certain height or age.

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