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Response to "Trick-or-teens"

Posted by Robin Abrahams  November 4, 2011 04:45 PM

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I hope Monday's LW had a great Halloween! This was the person who wrote in bothered by the sullen, uncostumed trick-or-treating teens. The basic advice was to turn off lights and lock the door at 8pm, which appears to be the magic hour at which younger kids go home. And then when you're in candy-dispenser mode, give to everyone equally, and don't try to teach manners. It's not the time or place. Some kids will be really fun, others not so much, but what the heck. whatever had a good approach: 

Here in Brookline, we actually get *college* students ringing the doorbell and begging for candy on Halloween. If they just seem clueless or silly, I usually say something like, "Oh, look--a grown-up masquerading as a child! Or maybe it's a child masquerading as a grownup!" I always give them a little something, though. I've never run out of candy before 8 pm. When I'm ready to go to bed, I turn out the lights and leave what's left of my candy on the front porch with a sign that says, "Take a piece while supplies last!" The bowl is always empty the next morning, thereby eliminating a huge temptation for me. And no one has ever egged my house or done anything nasty. 

And sometimes, the high school kids are really sweet. Last year, my then 7-year-old daughter set up an elaborate scarecrow on our front porch complete with little signs for trick-or-treaters to read. (The scarecrow had helpful advice such as "Don't knock the candles over!" and "Only take one or two treats so everyone can have some!"). Later that night, after the kids had gone to bed, I noticed two teens dressed as Harry Potter and Hermione Granger sitting in the dark on the steps of my front porch. The lights were out, but they were just talking so I decided not to bother them. The next morning, I discovered that they'd left a very cool note to my daughter, complimenting her on her scarecrow. It was signed "Harry and Hermione." My daugher, a *huge* Harry Potter fan, beamed from ear to ear. 

Teenagers can be pretty darned cool when you give them a chance. A couple of commenters had stories that remind us that on the night of costumes and mystery, not everything may be as it seems. Claire87 wrote: 

Be careful about judging the trick-or-treaters at your door based on how "big" they are or how old they appear to be. Some children are quite tall or mature-looking for their ages. I'll never forget what it felt like to be ten years old and pointedly asked if I wasn't a little too old to be trick-or-treating. Due to my height and, um, development, I'm sure these were well-meaning people who thought they were dealing with a teenager, but that doesn't make it a less upsetting experience for kids who already often deal with a lot of negative attention due to their atypical growth. 

 And k2togssk wrote: 

My boys are 13 and 15. The oldest is developmentally delayed and the younger has some social/mental issues. They will be heartbroken when it's time for them to give up trick or treating. They were very large ninjas next to a lot of the younger kids, and the only teenagers traveling with their mother, but that also ensure they remembered their manners. 

Let them trick-or-treat as long as they enjoy it, k2togssk! GreenMountainViews had a nicely analytic yet poetic approach to the holiday: 

On some level I think of Halloween as public speaking training for pre-schoolers, as well as neighbor relationship training. I think the best parents understand this. Sometimes we have to wait thirty seconds or so for a todder to form the words Trick or Treat. The cutest thing is when they can't get a word out and say Trick or Treat while safely retreating across the lawn toward the parents while clutching the candy. You hear this little whispered baby-talk Trick or Treat coming out of the darkness. 

GMV is right about the public-speaking training. One of my dissertation advisers, Jean Berko Gleason, did research on how children learn the trick-or-treat formula. Here's a fun piece by her on the PBS site about it.  

While I don't want to demonize socially awkward teens, I don't want to dismiss the feelings of the LW either. If this is a question of someone feeling genuinely uncomfortable, instead of annoyed, then harrietw's advice is right on the money: 

It sounds like the LW is physically intimidated by the teens, who are "scary" and "as big as I am", as much as s/he may be annoyed by the lack of participation and appreciation. If someone really scares you, please don't open the door, assuming there's a way to check them out first. Or open the door with your dog at your side, if such is available. Or have friends in for the evening so you are not alone on Halloween and can therefore feel more comfortable opening the door fearlessly, knowing there is backup in the next room watching "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown". 

 Finally, I have to share this story from Lirazel

We had a LOT of teenagers this year -- cold weather and a school night seem to have kept the little ones in. Most of them made some effort at a costume (Waldo was particularly good), but my next-door neighbor's boy came in his usual hoodie and jeans with a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball cap. 
"What are you?" I asked. 
"I'm a hipster," he replied. 
 I had to give him an extra Almond Joy for irony.
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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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