With Halloween now two weeks away, it’s time to start thinking about Halloween safety. OK, that’s an understatement: if the local news programs are to be believed it’ time to start panicking. Poisoned Pixie Stix, needles-stuck Snickers, and razor-wielding Raisinets lurk behind every Jack-o-lantern-guarded door. Evil ne’er-do-wells lurk ready to pluck your children off the streets and do unspeakable things to them. The dead walk the earth and seek to steal the the souls of the unwary.
I mock, but only because these myths of Halloween are so eminently mockable. As it happens, Halloween has generated a host of safety myths, turning a once wholesome celebration of zombies, vampires, and other dead, undead, and half-dead things into something rather more sinister. Let’s examine some of these myths:
The reality is that your children are fairly safe from victimization by your neighbors. Statistically speaking, you and your family are the greatest threat your children face — far, far more dangerous than any stranger. While it makes good sense to teach your children to be aware of themselves and their surroundings in the company of strangers, the feverish panic that breaks out every year in the weeks before Halloween is way out of proportion to the actual threat posed to your children.
So where does the panic come from? At least part of it has to be pinned on local news organizations and their addiction to the scare story as a way to drive ratings. “Poisoned candy rampant in the Southland! Are your children at risk
But the more important story lies in the anxieties we as a society have fostered over the last several decades. As we’ve become more and more isolated with the rise of suburban living, greater job demands, the availability of in-home and solitary entertainments, and so on, we’ve grown distrustful and suspicious of our neighbors because — more than at any other time in human history — we don’t know who they are. We don’t rely on them and they don’t rely on us, we don’t have any obligations to them and they don’t have any obligations to us. We are literally surrounded by strangers.
And along comes Halloween, and what do we do? We allow our children to go door to door among those strangers and beg for candy. In anthropological terms, feeding someone and eating together are powerful markers of intimacy and demonstrations of solidarity — but we aren’t intimate with our neighbors and there is no sense of solidarity. So we worry. And one way we express those worries is by telling each other urban legends about the dangers of strangers with candy, especially on Halloween. This may also be a defensive strategy, allowing us to ignore the fact that the most real source of danger to our children is their own family.
So don’t panic. Take reasonable safety precautions — make sure your kids are visible in the dark, have them carry flashlights, teach them traffic safety principles, supervise young trick-or-treaters, and don’t let Halloween pranks get out of hand. Don’t let these perfectly normal anxieties develop into irrational fears that end up polluting Halloween for yourself and your children.
Do be sure, however, to teach your kids about the dangers of the walking dead. Because that fear that is totally rational.
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