by Leslie Morgan Steiner
All last week I was afraid of Halloween. Not afraid of razors in apples or kids getting kidnapped by masked strangers. I was afraid of…THE PARENTS.
I worry about parents who limit their kids to two pieces of candy, and then make the kids throw out the rest.
The somber adults who debate the merits of moving Halloween to Saturday night so that kids can get enough sleep for school Monday.
Or the ones who express concerns about boys’ costumes being too violent.
Or girls’ costumes that are too “sophisticated.”
Or the admittedly overweight vegan who called into my favorite radio station  this week and argued for 20 minutes that the United States government should ban Halloween because October 31st causes childhood obesity.
Let me take this occasion to repeat the best parenting advice I ever heard (which applies to all situations): Never forget what it was like to be a kid. We were all children once. Presumably we remember something meaningful from every age, every milestone, every Halloween.
Amazing how often we, as adults, forget what it was like to be a kid.
Childhood colors the rest of our lives. We parents err mightily when we try to make Halloween, or any other iconic childhood experience, magically perfect and pain-free. Ironically and counter-intuitively, the best thing we can do as parents is to step back and avoid micromanaging our children’s lives.
Take Halloween. Halloween is about being too scary (and getting too scared). Finding out that it is possible to eat too much candy. Getting so excited about getting to the next block that you lose your parents.
Halloween is about trying on a different costume – a more powerful and frightening you, or the clothes a sexpot eighteen-year-old wears, when you’re only eleven. It’s an experiment, one day where kids can break rules without condemnation and see what too much freedom feels like.
Children’s book author R.L. Stine, the author of the Goosebumps HorrorLand series , shared a few words of wisdom in “Scariest Sight on Halloween? Grownups ” in The New York Times this weekend. “Kids live in their own special and private world. And Halloween is still the holiday that proves it.”
Do we need parental guidelines or laws to regulate Halloween candy and age-appropriate costumes? How much does it really matter if your daughter shows her belly button on Halloween or your four-year-old gets scared by an older child’s mask? Perhaps it is GOOD for children to learn lessons about the pros and cons of being too revealing, too frightening, or too easily frightened. By themselves, without parental interference, for one night a year.
I’m happy to report that my fears about Halloween helicopter parents were unfounded. I (wo)manned my front door for three hours and handed out 24 huge bags of Reese’s, Twix, Hershey’s and Snickers (all my favorites when I was a kid). There were dozens of terrifying costumes – some on six-year-olds. There were several Disney princess gowns worn by little girls who will never be princesses. A few twelve-year-olds wearing way-too-sexy French maid costumes. At least three kids whose parents laughed when their toddlers were too afraid to walk to my front door alone, even when lured by the candy bowl.
There may be extremists dominating the blogosphere and the radio waves, but I’m pretty sure most of us parents do remember what being a kid on Halloween felt like. Halloween, with all its fears, experiments and excess, remains safely ensconsed in childhood – at least for now.