Bone to pick with the age of trick-or-treaters? You’re not alone

From parents toting costumed toddlers to teenagers in hockey jerseys, there can be a large age range of trick-or-treaters on Halloween. 

One child psychologist says Halloween is about having fun, and there’s no limit on how young a trick-or-treater can be. But is there an age when you’re meant to stop? 

CBC News recently visited a Calgary costume store to ask people when is the right time to hang up their pillow cases and start handing out candy instead.

“I think it takes a lot of courage to show up at random houses when you’re older and ask for candy,” said Calgarian Denise Davies. She thinks anything under the age of 18 is OK. 

“Sometimes I give the kids — the older kids — the whole bucket at the end of the night, if I’m tired and I want to turn the lights off.” 

Parent Patrick McKay says he thinks age 15 is the cutoff because “it’s not really that fun or cute anymore.” 

Emily Wong thinks the limit is one year older. 

“I think the limit is 16, because at that point you can get your own job and buy your own candy,” she said. 

Two people stand in front of a house decked out in a Halloween display.
A child psycologist says interest in getting dressed up for Halloween tends to peak through the elementary school years. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

In some places, the debate over the right age to trick-or-treat doesn’t end at the kitchen table. Sometimes it even takes place at city hall.

For example, the City of Bathurst, N.B. 

The city bylaw originally made it illegal for people over the age of 14 to trick-or-treat, but it was amended in 2017 to allow for trick-or-treaters up to the age of 16.

B.C.-based parenting educator and child psychologist Vanessa Lapointe isn’t a fan of that type of restriction. 

“Laws like that are antiquated, not aligned with the science of child development and need to catch up with the times in terms of what our children actually need,” she said. 

  • WATCH | CBC Kids News asked preteens to weigh in on Bathurst bylaw

Lapointe says she thinks hang-ups about how old kids should be when they stop trick-or-treating are probably misplaced. 

“We would be much better off to focus on extending their childhood than worrying that they shouldn’t have an extra year or two of candies,” she said. 

She recommends those out trick-or-treating at any age should be welcomed. 

“Not be sort of thrust on the outside to then have to wander off and find something else to fill their time with, which we will then all complain about,” she said. 

For child psychologist Brent Macdonald, trick-or-treating is less about age and more about the spirit of the holiday. 

A man smiles against a black background.
Dr. Brent Macdonald says if you’ve aged out of school, in most cases you’ve aged out of trick-or-treating as well. (Submitted by Brent Macdonald)

“For instance, if you have a 17-year-old going out trick-or-treating and they’re wearing their hockey jersey, to me, you’re not in the spirit of it,” said Macdonald, who is based in Calgary but maintains an active private practice on P.E.I. and is registered in Nova Scotia, B.C., and the Northwest Territories.

“If you’re 17 years old and you’re in full Harry Potter gear or something like that, I think bonus points for trying and keeping the spirit of what Halloween should be, which is just a fun time to dress up and play, adventure, keeping that alive.” 

He says interest in getting dressed up for Halloween tends to peak through the elementary school years, and after that point interest starts to taper off. 

“It’s mostly associated with the concept of school. So if you’re still in elementary, junior, senior high, generally speaking, I would say the general expectation would be ‘OK, fair enough,'” he said. 

“If you’re aged out of school, then you’ve kind of aged out of trick-or-treating, too.” 

But no matter a person’s age, he says, the idea is to keep trick-or- treating light. 

“We don’t have a whole lot of times in our society where we have the opportunity to go door to door, visit our neighbours, see what they’re doing and share.” 

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