If you're over 12, trick-or-treating could land you in jail in Chesapeake, Va.

kids dressed up for trick or treating
CC BY 2.0 Barbara Bresnahan -- "May I see your iD before handing over this chocolate bar?"

Who's scared of vampires when there are adults trying to suck all the fun out of childhood?

Should kids be cut off from trick-or-treating at a certain age? The city of Chesapeake, Virginia, thinks so. It has decided that age 12 is a reasonable cut-off and has even created a law that would see kids 12 and over get in legal trouble for daring to ask for candy on October 31st.

The City Code, Sec. 46-8, says that if any person over the age of 12 "engages in the activity commonly known as 'trick or treat'", he or she will be guilty of a misdemeanor, fined up to $100, and/or put in jail for a maximum of six months. Similarly, if anyone is caught trick-or-treating outside of the designated hours of 6 to 8 p.m., he or she will be guilty of a misdemeanor, fined up to $100, and/or jailed for up to 30 days.

This is insane. If it weren't inscribed in city law, I'd think it was a bad Halloween trick, but sadly not. The motivation behind the law seems to be to cut down on mischief caused by excited costumed teens, but if city officials think that a trick-or-treat ban is going to keep teens inside on Halloween, they're deluded. If anything, teens are going to be resentful about having a chief source of entertainment withheld from them and likely to retaliate.

Even the experts agree. Hans Broedel is a professor from the University of North Dakota and a specialist in early traditions. He told the Associated Press,

“Trick-or-treating in a large part is embraced in this country because it serves to cut down on teenage vandalism [and] telling teenagers they can’t go trick-or-treating isn’t going to stop them from going out on Halloween.” (quoted in Quartz)

Perhaps most irritating is that adults can't seem to decide on kids' maturity levels. On one hand, you have 12-year-olds banned from trick-or-treating because, presumably, they're unaccompanied by a parent and prone to pranks. On the other hand, 11-year-olds in York County, Virginia, are told they can trick-or-treat all they want -- as long as they're accompanied by an adult. So where is the in-between stage of childhood, when kids are allowed just to be kids and enjoy a fun night of free candy without being trailed by worried parents or suspicious cops? As Lenore Skenazy wrote for Let Grow,

"The time frame gets shorter as the regulations grow, all seemingly based on the idea that anyone above age 13 is a potential hooligan, anyone under age 13 is a potential victim, and any semblance of fun must be thrown out faster than a slightly tampered Snickers bar."

The ban (which can be found in various forms in different U.S. and Canadian cities) is ridiculous for countless other reasons. Trick-or-treating is one of those many childhood activities that kids outgrow naturally, as all of us adults did at some point. Eventually a year arrives when it no longer feels right to put on a costume and ring a doorbell. For me, that happened around 14. Why put an official number on that? As one commenter wrote on the Let Grow website, "All kids develop differently and there shouldn’t be an arbitrary age limit set on activities for kids."

Practically speaking, how will such a law be enforced? I doubt homeowners will start asking for ID at the door. How does one define "engaging" in trick-or-treating? Teenage siblings are often sent out to accompany younger children, and sometimes a parent is still a teenager, accepting candy on behalf of their tired toddler. Would they get charged, punished indirectly for having had a child at 16 or 17? And do homeowners really care who's ringing their doorbell during one night of the year? It's common knowledge that if someone doesn't want to hand out candy, they'll turn off their porch light; no one's being forced to do it.

This is yet another example of the weird invasion of adult rules and regulations into children's sacred space and the ongoing erosion of their rights -- conducted, as usual, under the guise of safety and protection. When adults aren't busy taking the fun out of childhood adventures, they're occupied with vilifying those that are beyond their control, assuming the worst.

It is time adults took a step back and reassessed the absurdity of such rampant regulation. Halloween should be a time to celebrate child independence, to let kids do things they're normally not allowed to do and gain confidence from it.

If you're over 12, trick-or-treating could land you in jail in Chesapeake, Va.
Who's scared of vampires when there are adults trying to suck all the fun out of childhood?

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