How Old Is Too Old for Trick or Treating?

NBC/DreamWorks Television
NBC/DreamWorks Television

Halloween -- specifically the act of trick or treating -- represents a social contract unlike any other in the Western world. When you step back and just examine the concept (strangers, candy, free), the whole thing seems outlandish, borderline dangerous, and, if you're an 8-year-old and/or a giddy Jerry Seinfeld, almost too good to be true. 

The phenomenon, designed in part by the Irish, propagated by most of America, relies on a tenuous public caveat: Everyone just needs to be cool and not take advantage of the situation (this becomes especially pertinent when operating under the agreement of the please-take-one, unsupervised bowl).

But as there are no official rules to trick or treating (aside from not doing what that trashy lady did above), there are certainly gray areas that must be navigated. Most towns and cities will outline specific "trick-or-treat times" to ensure everyone is on the same candy-doling page. And recently, some towns have even began setting age on who can trick or treat: an age limit, in other words. Well... is there an acceptable age where you should stop trick or treating?

In this survey by chart-makers-extraordinaire FiveThirtyEight, most people tend to think you should start dialing back on the door-to-door candy begging by the time you hit 12-ish (with some monsters thinking you should drop it all together at 9). 

But is teenaged trick or treating really that bad? Is there really an invisible wall of acceptability that 11-year-olds crash through when they hit the big 1-2?

Especially if they decide to wear a costume?

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There is no hard, enforced cut-off age in most towns in America and Canada -- but again, some have instituted laws where young people over 13, 16, or sometimes even 12 can be punished by fines or time spent in juvenile hall -- so it's kind of just up to discretion. Personally, I remember going out to snag some candy when I was in seventh grade (pretty much out of boredom and irony) and having more than a few people drop the "aren't you guys a little old..." line.

And... it kind of makes sense, especially as groups of unsupervised teens wearing masks tend to get into some shit, and this is one potential way to quash it.

I think, generally, you're going to get harassed if you go trick or treating after the age of 12 (or earlier, if the puberty bunny visited you early). But, there are several guidelines to follow if you really want to cling tight to your childhood and trick or treat as a teen, late tween, or a full-blown, tax-paying, soul-crushed adult. 

Bring a kid (duh)

Having a kid with you opens up adults to all types of fun: going to Chuck-e-Cheese and Pixar movies, ordering fish sticks without shame, and of course, trick or treating. This is the easiest way to prolong your trick or treating into early adulthood. In fact, if you have a kid with you, there's really no age limit. Children are like little, smelly passports to free candy. If you don't have your own kid, borrow a friend's. If you don't have any friends, try to find a babysitting gig. If you are legally unable to be a babysitter, well... well, then yea maybe you shouldn't be involved in the trick-or-treating sphere at all. 

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Design a fake child

Its like they always say, "Fake it till you make it!" and in this case, "it" means a baby. All you really need is a child's full-body costume, a sizable amount of paper mache, and the ability to run away quickly when your plan turns to shit. 

Do a reverse Mrs. Doubtfire...

And apply makeup to make yourself look younger. Facial hair is your enemy here, as it's generally a signifier that, yes, you are too old to trick or treat. 

Wear a costume so awe-inspiring, they can't help but give you candy

Any of these should suffice. 

Pretend like you're a child on stilts

Or, perhaps two children stacked atop one another. Again, facial hair will kill this illusion. 

Exclusively visit houses that just leave bowls out 

No one has to know but you, the bowl, and the occasional dog in the window. 

Or... maybe just give it up already?

Ultimately, the reason trick or treating exists is to capture the minds and hearts of our nation's children. Much like Santa Claus (turn away children!), believing in it when you are old enough to go on a date isn't just sad, it defeats the purpose. 

There is no hard cut-off for trick or treating, and frankly there probably shouldn't be laws legally prohibiting 15-year-olds from going door-to-door.

But, as my dad told me that night my friends and I decided to trick or treat as seventh graders: "Don't you guys have a party to go to or something? Don't you feel stupid?"

If you are old enough to consider this question, you are probably too old to trick or treat. Just buy your own damn candy and leave the freebies for the children. After all, they deserve to have some fun before they find out their planet, economy, and future in general are completely screwed, right?


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Wil Fulton is a staff writer at Thrillist and a passionate doer of other stuff. For more info, you'll have to do a free background check.