How Old Is Too Old to Trick or Treat?

Some etiquette experts say the age shouldn't matter as long as the trick-or-treater is polite. SeventyFour/Shutterstock

I think I was in about seventh grade when my friends and I decided we were too old to go trick-or-treating. Newly minted teenagers, we decided to have a Halloween party instead. So we decorated someone's basement with black streamers, played creepy music and told ghost stories until we got bored, which was relatively quickly.

Deciding we weren't too old after all, we hit the streets and got a stash of candy instead. We realized everyone is the right age for free candy.

But it's a question that often comes up this time of year as people prepare to hand out goodies and the kids come knocking. At what age should the "big kids" stop ringing doorbells?

Recently, the city of Chesapeake, Virginia, made headlines for a law that says anyone over the age of 14 who goes trick-or-treating could be guilty of a possible Class 4 misdemeanor, which could include up to a $250 fine. Anyone who trick or treats after 8 p.m. also could be guilty of the same crime.

As CNN points out, the ordinance is actually nothing new. It's been in effect since 1970, but back then it said kids over 12 who were out asking for candy on Halloween could face jail time.

The city drew national scrutiny for putting an age limit on Halloween fun. Although city administrators were quick to point out that the law was never enforced and was created after a violent Halloween night in a nearby city, it was put in place to give police an option if needed. They explained with a note online:

While we appreciate all of the concern and attention we received from around the country last year, we’d like to assure everyone that, in fact, we do NOT arrest teens for trick-or-treating and never have ... The City of Chesapeake wishes everyone a safe, fun, and candy-filled Halloween!

Chesapeake isn't the only town making headlines for Halloween rules. A town in New Brunswick, Canada, forbids kids older than 16 from trick-or-treating. The Bathurst law was amended in recent years; previously, the cut-off age for Halloween was 14.

Which side are you on?

teens trick or treating
Older kids should be polite and choose a costume that isn't too scary, experts suggest. SeventyFour/Shutterstock

Some people aren't pleased when the big kids come to the door, especially when they're in scary costumes or rude. Others think they'd rather have them going door-to-door than causing other kinds of mischief.

In an ongoing unofficial Today poll, 42% of voters said kids are never too old to trick or treat, while 21% said age 15-16 is the cut-off point and 17% said age 17-18 is the right time to stop. A poll by FiveThirtyEight found most people think kids should stop trick-or-treating somewhere between ages of 12 and 15.

Many parents and candy-givers often have strong opinions on the subject, and it might just be whether you have kids or how well-behaved the older kids are when they come to your house.

"If a 17-year-old wants to dress up with their friends and trade candy at the end of the night, I think that's great," etiquette expert Catherine Newman of Real Simple magazine, told Today. "Little kids die of happiness when they see big kids dressed up. It validates their excitement."

Newman suggests that older kids be polite, don't ring the doorbell too late, and don't dress up in a costume that's very scary because they'll be sharing the streets with little ones.

"The big concerns I have are that younger kids get priority," Lizzie Post, etiquette expert and co-president at the Emily Post Institute, tells Time. "You want to make sure younger kids are getting the chance and the opportunity, but I don't want to discourage teens from enjoying this as long they’re behaving well."