Home » Teenage trick-or-treaters are too scary for these cities

Teenage trick-or-treaters are too scary for these cities

Every year, it seems like the controversies surrounding Halloween keep getting stupider.

Last year, fears about “rainbow fentanyl” caused panic over brightly colored pills supposedly designed as candy. This year, parents online expressed horror over the “switch witch” (a clever, if cruel way to throw away your kid’s candy haul), and a New Jersey school district announced its baffling decision to cancel Halloween celebrations over concern for the minority of kids who don’t celebrate the holiday.

But there’s also another Halloween debate that has long gotten out of hand: How old is too old to go trick-or-treating? While this seems like a question for parents, some local governments have handed down their own decrees about just who gets to participate in Halloween candy collecting.

According to a recent NPR story, kids over 14 in Chesapeake, Virginia, caught trick-or-treating can be charged with a misdemeanor. Until 2019, they apparently faced six months in jail.

In nearby Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth, and Virginia Beach, kids over 12 are barred from trick-or-treating. Rayne, Louisiana, and Jacksonville, Illinois, also ban teenage trick-or-treaters. In Belleville, Illinois, they can get slapped with a $1,000 fine.

How often these laws are enforced is unclear. However, it doesn’t seem like local police departments are rigorously verifying the age of trick-or-treaters.

“Officers do not spend Halloween night ‘carding’ trick-or-treaters, nor are they actively seeking ‘over age’ participants,” one Chesapeake spokesperson told Today in 2019.

It’s not entirely clear why these cities have enacted age limits on trick-or-treating; the most common—though often vaguely phrased—reasoning seems to be an attempt to halt teenage crime.

“We saw and heard from a lot of seniors particularly, that big kids—kids in high school—kids were coming to the door as late as 10 o’clock at night and seniors were afraid to open the door and they were afraid if they didn’t open the door that something was going to happen to their house,” Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert said in a 2019 Slate interview. “Sometimes we have to make those decisions for parents who aren’t being parents….It’s unfortunate, but in today’s world we live in, sometimes government has to make tough decisions like this.”

While there is some evidence that crime does increase on Halloween, there’s no reason to think that banning teenagers from trick-or-treating decreases crime among juveniles. More importantly, pushing teenagers away from trick-or-treating might actually make them more likely to get up to less wholesome activities. 

“What would you rather a teen do with the holiday?” Deseret News recently put it. “Egg houses? Drink?”

The real problem with these laws is that they present a legal solution to what is typically a social annoyance at most. Some find it obnoxious when teenagers try to collect their share of free candy, but truly disgruntled adults are perfectly free to turn away conspicuously teenage trick-or-treaters if they choose.

As it turns out, most people aren’t that bothered by younger teenagers getting in on the Halloween fun—even if many cities would ban their participation in trick-or-treating. A 2021 YouGov poll found that 26 percent of respondents thought that no teenager is too old to participate, while only 21 percent drew the line at age 12 or younger. 


October 2023