It’s always awkward when you open the door on Halloween night and the trick or treater on your doorstep is old enough to have driven him or herself there. Some argue the older kids are making things less fun for young kids. Others say it’s better to beg for candy than cause problems elsewhere.
Townships around the country, though, are increasingly siding with the first argument, setting limits on how old trick or treaters can be—and threatening stiff penalties to kids (and, in some cases, adults) who ignore them on Halloween.
Virginia is arguably the state with the strictest ordinances, with several cities limiting the age of trick or treaters.
In Chesapeake, they must be 12 or under. Violators face fines of up to $100 and possible jail time—as much as six months. They’ll also have a misdemeanor on their record. Newport News forbids it for kids in eighth grade and beyond or over the age of 12. (They can accompany younger siblings, but not wear a mask.)
Norfolk, Portsmith, Suffolk, and Virginia Beach also limit trick or treating to 12 and younger.
Law enforcement officials, though, do say that the odds of going to jail for trick or treating while too old are pretty slim.
“Chesapeake Police staff will focus on making sure the evening is safe for everyone, not actively seeking out violations of the time or age limits,” the city says on its website. “For example, a thirteen year old safely trick or treating with a younger sibling is not going to have any issues. That same child taking pumpkins from porches and smashing them in the street more likely will.”
In New Jersey’s Upper Deerfield Township, a rule has been on the books for 30 years limiting the trick or treating age to 12 or younger, but it’s rarely enforced. Belleville, Ill. has a similar law for “Halloween Solicitation”.
Police say the ordinances are precautionary and meant to ensure safety. They won’t be doing spot checks of trick or treaters. But the American Civil Liberties Union is unhappy just the same.
“These ghoulish limitations are too scary, even for Halloween,” the organization wrote in a blog post. “They also impose a severe limitation on a cherished tradition for many kids and families. … The only thing a 13-year-old trick-or-treater should fear is a stomach ache at bedtime — not jail.”