Sunday, October 30, 2011

Spoiled Fun

Halloween has gotten a lot scarier since I was a kid – and not in a good way.

We used to dress in costumes that our mothers made or maybe buy a mask and a few things at a store then drag one of the pillowcases from house to house until our bags were so heavy and full we couldn’t carry them anymore. Then we’d rush home and sort through the loot – putting our favourites in one pile and the stuff that was okay or ones we didn’t like in a pile to share with the other people in the family. Sometimes you could trade with your friends or siblings.

There were, of course frights along the way, but for the most part they were the innocent “boo” type when someone snuck up or popped up unexpectedly.

It was a night for kids of all ages to have some innocent fun.

Sure, there were the occasional reports of someone’s bag being stolen and even rarer reports of candies and apples being tampered with but they were just that – rare. For the most part we knew the people who lived in the houses we went to.

That isn’t the case anymore. We don’t know our neighbours. We don’t know our neighbourhoods. Even going to what seems to be a safer or more upscale neighbourhood isn’t always a good plan. Sadly there are some very real dangers lurking around almost every neighbourhood. It has gotten to the point that a lot of parents aren’t willing to let their kids hit the streets anymore.

Not just because of the possible physical dangers or risk of treats being tampered with – but the fact that so much of the treats are basically sugar. With the growing rate of childhood obesity, many wonder if it is really a wise move to send the kids out to beg for even more sweets. Sure some houses do give out slightly healthier treats or even small toys or such but then they are at risk of some type of retaliation from kids who expect or demand the treats! Seems like neither side can win. It isn’t just a “TP” decorating of your yard or an egg on the house. It’s spray paint and outright vandalism.

Some hospitals offer to scan the kids loot bags to see if anything has been tampered with. I’ve heard of a few police departments that are even offering to run the loot through a metal detector.

So much for a fun night!

In Winnipeg and many other cities, there are community centres or other organizations offering a safe place for the kids to hang out for the evening. There are games, costume contests, snacks and lots of treat bags for the kids to take home after. Some shopping malls are offering the kids a chance to trick or treat in a safe environment. Employees from participating stores hand out treats to the costumed kids as they walk by.

Then there are the costumes. This is yet another bone of contention for many. Costumes have gotten much more elaborate since I was a kid. Some parents still make the costumes but store bought ones come in a wide variety of styles. Not all of them are tasteful or even appropriate for the child’s age either. Costumes can also get very expensive. Kids don’t want to wear the same costume two years in a row, so that can get very pricy for some families even if they hit the second hand stores. I heard one report that an average family can spend between $75-150 for Halloween. That includes the costumes and the treats to be handed out. That makes a formerly fun night out of the question for many.

Several schools here in the city and even in small towns have banned costumes during the school day. That has outraged some parents who say their kids want to show off their costumes and continue traditions. Some parents have started petitions but educators think the parents aren't seeing the bigger picture.

The schools have laid out several reasons for the changes. Teachers have enough to deal with trying to teach and discipline on a normal day – let alone with a bunch of kids who are distracted by costumes. Peer pressure, teasing and bullying are huge issues among young people. Choosing the wrong costume or not wearing a costume – either for personal, religious or economic reasons – can cause untold problems for many.

I don’t recall if we wore our costumes to school when I was a kid. If we did, I think it may have been that we changed into costumes for part of the afternoon. I seem to recall a costume parade when I was in about grade 5 or so.

For the record, I’m siding with the schools on this one. They are there to teach - not throw parties. I’m not saying that kids can’t have fun at school – learning should be fun, but costumes are just too distracting and a mind-field for potential trouble and humiliation. It just isn’t worth it.

Personally, I think the community centers and the malls also have the right idea. The kids are having fun and getting a more limited amount of sugar laden treats while also getting to show off their costumes in a safe environment.

Halloween used to be fun. It used to be safe to dress up in a costume. Sure we ate way to much candy but we also didn’t sit on our duffs with a tech toy, IPhone/IPad or in front of a computer screen all day. We were active and managed to burn off most of those extra calories. The bullies didn’t have social media and weren’t nearly as cruel or vicious as they are now.

Manufacturers of candies, costumes and decorations are capitalizing on the season. Merchants are filling shelves with overpriced products. Advertisers are trying to turn consumers into gluttons. Peer pressure to fit in has reached a boiling point for many.

Families can’t afford to celebrate Halloween anymore. Kids aren’t safe on the streets and risk endless teasing for the wrong choice of costume or any other so called coming of age infraction.

I wish we could turn back time and let kids enjoy the night the way we did when we were kids but that just doesn’t seem to be possible in this day and age. I don’t think that Halloween should be cancelled – at least not yet. Kids grow up too fast. They need to experience the fun of dressing up and spending time with other kids in person rather than through texts, cell phones and computers.

We need to keep the costumes out of the schools and let them focus on teaching. We need to encourage local community centers and malls to host safe events for the kids. It’s sad that things have changed so much but nothing ever stays the same and at least for now, these are the most reasonable alternatives to preserve Halloween..

Halloween should be a night of fun. Enjoy it if you can. Above all, be kind, be safe and have fun!


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