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Halloween Trick or Treating Isn’t Dangerous and Neither Are Your Neighbors

Every year, parents get panicked about the risks of accepting candy from strangers. The problem isn't the candy. The problem is that the neighborhood is full of strangers.

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This week, police in Georgia warned parents of trick-or-treaters that their kid might get methamphetamine instead of candy. The warning, based on a drug bust that netted SweeTART-shaped meth, is just the latest in the annual barrage of scary Halloween stories aimed at panicky parents. The problem is that the meth warning, and similar warnings since the razorblade-in-the-apple days of the 1980s, are largely ridiculous and serve only to build a collective neighborhood distrust.

To be very clear, the chances of a child receiving drugs in lieu of candy while trick-or-treating is vanishingly small. That’s true even in Georgia where meth addicts apparently prefer their drugs to look like candy. There were equally unlikely chances a kid would receive Halloween drugs in 2017 when news outlets were warning parents pot-laced candies could be tossed into pumpkin-pails and pillowcases. And there were no greater chances kids were in trick-or-treat danger in the 1970s when a Detroit child’s death was blamed on heroin-dosed candy. In that case, it turned out the child had found his uncle’s heroin stash and the parents had staged the tainted candy to cover for the man.

The idea that there is a lunatic putting razors in apples, needles in candies, or lacing goodies with drugs makes for good seasonal horror fodder. But it has no connection to reality. In fact, researchers have found that nearly all cases of needles and razors in apples were hoaxes, perpetrated by kids trying to freak out parents and siblings. As far as drugs are concerned, users tend to be very stingy with their stash. They are not giving it out for free. And a psychopath willing to take time to fill Snickers bars with sewing needles would be making a pretty tremendous effort just to mildly injure a kids mouth and inevitably be carted off to jail.

In truth, there has never been a documented case of a child dying from receiving dangerous Halloween treats from a neighbor. Still, local news stations suggest parents thoroughly inspect candy or take the treats to be x-rayed by the local hospital which will provide the service for free. But none of this Halloween fear mongering does anything to keep kids safe. In fact, it may put them in danger. Why? Because it reinforces the idea that we don’t really know our neighbors, which justifies the fact that many of us don’t. Fewer familiar faces in the neighborhood mean fewer eyes looking out for the kids.

What good does it do us to fear our neighbors? The effect is largely isolation. If parents view their neighbors with panic and suspicion, they certainly aren’t going to take the time to get to know them. But getting to know a neighbor is exactly the way parents should keep their children safe. When you talk with neighbors you’re getting insight into who they are. You’re able to understand their lives better and pick up real warning signs.

On the other hand, getting to know neighbors increases the likelihood for communication and community. When you know a person, you’re likely to keep an eye out for them. When parents and children have good relationships with neighbors, safety increases. Not only can neighbors act as another set of eyes on kids, but they’ll also likely be more willing to communicate real threats in the neighborhood should any actually arise.

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Halloween is one of the few holidays when neighbors interact face-to-face. But when that interaction is tainted with fear and suspicion there’s little good that can come out of it. Americans are becoming lonelier and more isolated by the day and it’s not good for any of us. Instead of fearing meth in candy bag, we should be showing our children that having neighbors that we know and trust is an important part of living in a community.