Whether you favoured the witch, ghost or vampire look, many of us have fond memories of knocking on neighbours’ doors and stuffing ourselves with sweets. These days, however, it’s not the costumes that have people scared, but the thought that this treasured tradition might encourage anti-social behaviour in children and an unhealthy relationship with sugary treats.
In the wake of the 2011 London riots, a survey showed that one in five people in England would support a ban on trick-or-treating as they believe it encourages hooliganism. In one study, 58% of adults admitted to hiding in the dark to avoid trick-or-treaters, while on the other side of the discussion, many parents are now scared to let their children go knocking on strangers’ doors.
In terms of the impact on children, there is a growing concern that Halloween encourages gluttony, and that trick-or-treating rewards belligerent behaviour. When American chat show host Jimmy Kimmel asked parents to send in videos of themselves telling their children that they’d already eaten all their Halloween sweets, the children’s outraged responses revealed a funny but also disturbing attachment to unhealthy foods – and a serious sense of entitlement.
However, despite some choosing to focus on the potential problems with trick-or-treating, most would agree that Halloween is more about fun than real fear. Adult supervision is crucial in achieving this, particularly when it comes to younger children. With the appropriate planning and attention, trick-or-treating can be used to teach children how to interact with others and the importance of connecting with the people around them.
A recent survey revealed that a quarter of Brits don’t know our neighbours, and half of us don’t trust them, meaning that children are growing up without a sense of community. Far from being a mean-spirited and hostile tradition, trick-or-treating allows children to meet the people living near them in a playful way, and under the gaze of an adult. In order to protect the interests of everyone, police actively encourage residents who do not wish to be disturbed by trick-or-treaters to put up posters stating that they are opting out of the tradition.
While dentists might shudder at the thought of all those Halloween sweets, the labelling of them as ‘treats’ serves to emphasise that this is not an everyday food, and that they should be gratefully received, not demanded. Again, it’s up to parents to monitor their child’s behaviour, and to dictate how many sweets are consumed. For all our good intentions, we’ve all fallen prey to the tantalising call of a chocolate bar at some point, so it’s unfair to expect children to be in charge of their own diets and nutrition.
The mischievous and magical atmosphere that characterises Halloween can be a concern to people who feel it permits lawlessness and bratty behaviour among children. However, if the authorities and parents can combine common sense with a playful attitude, this tradition can be a useful and enjoyable way to educate children – while also having some fun.