Dear Suzanne and Amanda:
I knew this was coming, but I didn’t want to think about it so I kept putting it out of my head. Now it’s here and I’m wholly unprepared.
My 11-year-old son asked to go trick-or-treating alone with his friends. He’s a good boy and we live in a safe neighborhood. They’d go during the day and stay within a four or five block radius. (Once it gets dark, one of the dads is going to accompany them from a reasonable distance.) It’s all perfectly logical, all the other parents are on board and as a collective group the parents are going to talk to the boys about safe practices and what to do if they have a problem (two of the boys have cell phones). While they are out, I’ll be in the neighborhood with one of the other moms with our younger children so it’s likely we will even run into our kids.
It sounds like an ideal setup, so why am I still dreading the day? Am I making the right decision?
– Wishing He Still Wanted to Wear His Spider-Man Costume and Ride in the Wagon
Amanda: I’m actually facing the same situation you are. Our 11-year-old boy asked to go trick-or-treating alone with three of his friends this year and we said yes. My heart isn’t totally in it, but I recognize that he’s getting older and walking around the neighborhood with a brood of younger kids that include fairies, Elmo and ladybugs just isn’t cutting it anymore, no matter how many peanut butter cups he absconds from his toddler brother’s bag.
Despite your protests that you haven’t, it sounds like you and the other parents involved have put a lot of thought into your son’s afternoon and have tried to control as many of the variables as you can. That’s good. What you and your son (and me and my son) need to remember is that you can’t control everything. Not to freak you out, but he may encounter a group of older kids with eggs and shaving cream or a stranger who asks your son’s group to come for a ride in his car. What’s important is that you give your son the tools to help him make the right decision to remove himself from the situation. Making sure the kids have access to at least one cell phone is a great idea, and depending on your comfort level, you can also equip them with emergency whistles and flashlights (just in case they don’t make it back in time before dark). We are also setting some non-negotiable rules — he can’t eat any candy until it’s checked and no crossing any major roads, plus we have clearly defined what streets he needs to stay on.
Making myself semi-comfortable with the situation (and any activity that involves him becoming more independent) was all about telling myself that if I want my son to grow up healthy and well-adjusted, I need to start letting him do things that I might not be ready for him to do. He needs to practice being self-sufficient and I have to work on realizing that if I made him wait to do something until I was totally unworried, he would be married with kids of his own.
So send him out and try to relax. Soon enough he’ll be home and your next big parenting issue will be wondering if you need to ‘fess up for stealing some of his loot.
(And as an aside, on behalf of my husband, make sure you review the etiquette of trick-or-treating with your kids. Nothing drives him more bananas than kids who don’t say “trick-or-treat.” He’ll survive if they don’t say “thank you,” but if our Halloween visitors of any age [there are a couple of exceptions of course] who show up at our door don’t utter that famous phrase, likely aren’t getting candy from him.)
Suzanne: I wish I could be as open-minded about this as Amanda but it really makes my skin crawl. (Obviously you understand that!) It’s just that Halloweeen presents a very different set of circumstances than most other days that your child would be roaming the neighborhood with friends.
Granted there will be other groups around when they are making their way door-to-door but the concept of sending your child unattended up to a stranger’s door is a little too close for comfort for me. At least on a regular day, you could warn about staying away from strangers (and certainly not walking up to a strange home or car).
So if it were me, and my child was making their first foray out into the land of the unknown, I would want to follow along at a distance, just this once. Obviously give them a long leash and, for all the reasons Amanda mentioned, an opportunity to spread their wings. But you (or another parent) should think about being there both before and after dark (even if undercover trolling along in a car).
And really, as overprotective as I sound right now, I do value experiences that guide a child toward independence. It’s just that while they’re still learning, a safety net can’t hurt.
What do you think? What is a reasonable age to let kids go trick-or-treating without parental supervision?
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