For children, the idea of dressing up as their favorite character, hanging out with their friends and family, getting frightened, and of course, all the free candy, makes Halloween an exciting night. Nevertheless, the fright they experience at haunted houses and from costumes is temporary and masks the true fright of the possible long-term behavioral consequences.
Our caregivers always told us, “never take candy from strangers,” but on Halloween that rule does not apply. Sure, most candy that children receive from people in their neighborhoods has been newly bought and safe and yes, our caregivers will sometimes warn us to not consume candy until they have checked it. However, there are potential consequences of trick-or-treating that we do not discuss often enough.
Children who trick-or-treated without the supervision of their caregivers or were allowed to consume candy without any warnings about the dangers of tainted sweets may grow up to believe that all strangers can be trusted since nothing happened to them as children. The real danger is that these children will become naive adults. When something is offered to them they will be more likely to unquestionably trust other people because of their naive mindset that all people are well-intentioned. This mentality, that stems from trick-or-treating, is one of many factors in creating unsuspecting adults who are not skeptical. This makes them more susceptible to physical and emotional harm.
On the other hand, children who trick-or-treated with parental supervision and have been told the warnings may grow up to become adults with trust issues. They could grow up to be overly-skeptical. Yes, that may help them to be better protected from emotional and physical harm, but may also lead to difficulty forming meaningful relationships even with those closest to them because of this contradiction they experienced as children. “Never accept candy from strangers” becomes “let’s knock on their door, but don’t eat any candy until I’ve checked it” on Halloween. They could overall feel less satisfied with their life and have difficulty believing anyone, even themselves, due to the idea that there’s an exception to everything.
Jigyasa Aggarwal from Therapy Mantra lists the impacts of trust issues, “increased paranoia; which can lead to anxiety disorders, lack of commitment and intimacy in romantic relationships, overthinking and racing thoughts, difficulty in performing in a group/team, attachment and abandonment issues, etc.” Anna Johnson from the Amerikanki blog argues that, “even though Halloween is recognized as the safest day of the year, most parents spend a lot of time teaching their kids about ‘stranger danger.’ However, children will likely meet plenty of unfamiliar people if they go trick-or-treating in new neighborhoods. This can cause confusion since taking candy from strangers is usually something they’d get in trouble for doing.” Connecting both Aggarwal’s and Anna’s statements, Harappa Blogs states, “Individuals who go through a troubled childhood are most likely to experience trust issues later in life. Research shows children develop mistrust and doubt when they’ve been subject to duplicity in their social interactions from a young age. This can include a parent making false promises to a child or a friend failing to follow through on their words.” This could include the scenario where parents criticize and punish their children for accepting candy from strangers while allowing them to do so on Halloween.
So, how can we create a fun and safe Halloween that will ensure our children grow up to be aware and loving adults? The answer is simple. Children have always heard the phrase “never accept candy from strangers,” which is true. Therefore, family members, relatives and well-known friends – people that both the caregiver and child know – should come together, dress-up, share candy, watch a mildly scary movie and celebrate. This will teach the child to be skeptical of strangers and hesitate or reject offerings from them to ensure their overall safety, but also trust and love those that care for them.
Halloween should continue to be celebrated, but it should only be among those closest to the child to ensure they never grow up with trust issues or naivety that can be taken advantage of. In the short-run, there will be fewer kidnappings and poisonings from laced candy on Halloween. So let’s end the practice of letting children accept candy from anyone and start a new, less frightening tradition. Finding alternatives to trick-or-treating does not necessarily mean that Halloween itself should go away entirely.