Why 'trunk-or-treat' is a terrible idea

trunk or treat in Arizona
Public Domain Wikimedia Commons

It assumes Halloween is all about the candy, when there's actually far more at play.

October 31st is fast approaching. It's the annual night when paranoid parents, in a sad attempt to ensure safety, offer their children watered-down versions of the activities they themselves enjoyed while growing up. One example of this is 'trunk-or-treating,' a terrible idea in which "laziness and paranoia collide in a parking lot" (to quote Ian Fortey of Cracked).

The idea behind trunk-or-treating is to prevent children from trick-or-treating in the usual sense – you know, going around the neighborhood and knocking on doors for candy. Instead, cars are parked in a lot, their trunks are opened and decorated, and the owners hand out candy to costumed children walking by. It's typically organized by and for a certain community group, such as a church or a school. As Halloween historian Lesley Bannatyne told NPR, "It's very similar to Halloween, and you don't [get rid of] any of the great stuff like costumes and candy, but you can control it and keep away the imagery that you don't like."

But this misses the whole point! Halloween is not just about the candy. If it were, kids would be satisfied to stay home and receive a basketful of goodies directly from their parents, no costumes needed, all risks averted (sugar overdoses aside). Or, as Fortey put it, "Give it a few more years and we'll just mail each other boxes of candy for each other's kids, and a few years after that we'll just set up sucrose IVs and dim the lights, call it a night."

But kids aren't interested in that because there's a lot more at play on Halloween night. It's a chance for them to exercise independence and to engage in activities that go against everything they're told not to do for 364 other nights of the year – looking at gory imagery and spine-inducing decorations, dressing up in creepy masks, approaching strangers for candy, knocking on unknown doors, strolling in the dark after bedtime.

In the words of Lenore Skenazy, author of Free Range Kids, traditional trick-or-treating is a glorious (and literal) mini dress rehearsal for adulthood, whereas trunk-or-treating is yet another adult-led activity in a world already full of those. It also reinforces damaging and inaccurate assumptions about the world:

"[Trunk-or-treat] subtly suggests that kids are in peril walking up to any neighbor’s porch. This reinforces the community-killing idea that kids aren’t ever safe outside the home, school, or supervised program."

The safest kid is the one who is comfortable and confident in his or her neighborhood, who knows how to cross a street safely and walk themselves home, who knows how to talk to strangers politely and firmly, who does not exude a feeling of victimhood or fearfulness everywhere they go. Participating in activities like trick-or-treating on Halloween help to build up that confidence and, eventually, mold a competent young adult out of the child they once were.

Do your kids a favour and stop with the Halloween paranoia this year. Let them trick-or-treat to their heart's delight. It's good for their present and future selves.

Why 'trunk-or-treat' is a terrible idea
It assumes Halloween is all about the candy, when there's actually far more at play.

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