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No candy for you. Some towns ban older kids from trick-or-treating on Halloween

Children walk past Halloween decorations last year. In several U.S. towns, it's illegal for kids over 12 years old to go trick-or-treating.
Brandon Bell
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Children walk past Halloween decorations last year. In several U.S. towns, it's illegal for kids over 12 years old to go trick-or-treating.

Adults sometimes grumble about Halloween — the annual festival that brings hordes of kids to front doors, decked out in cute costumes and dreaming of handfuls of candy.

But when are kids too old to go trick-or-treating? In some U.S. towns, it's illegal for teenagers (and of course, adults) to indulge in the sweetest part of Halloween. That's not to say there's a consensus: even the towns that impose age limits don't agree on the "proper" age for trick or treaters.

One city once threatened jail time for teens

In one famous example, Chesapeake, Va., until recently had a 1970s law on the books threatening any teen caught trick-or-treating with up to six months in jail.

The city changed the law after a massive backlash. But its statute still says kids over 14 who trick-or-treat are guilty of a misdemeanor.

Other towns have similar laws, from Jacksonville, Ill., to Rayne, La., both of which bar kids who are 13 or older from trick-or-treating.

In Belleville, Ill., a law on "Halloween Solicitation" forbids anyone above eighth grade from going trick-or-treating. The city also requires anyone over 12 years old to get "permission of the Mayor or Chief of Police" if they want to wear a mask or disguise on days other than Halloween.

Many city ordinances also impose time limits on the sugar hijinks, demanding that kids stop asking for treats by 7:30, 8 or 9 p.m. In Taft, Texas, for instance, trick-or-treaters can only operate from 6 to 8:30 p.m.

"The practice of persons in previous years on Halloween night in roving all over the city late at night has become ... undesirable," places a burden on the police department and creates "an intolerable situation," the city said in its law.

So, what do the kids think?

The question of whether teenagers are too old to go trick-or-treating can spark a lively debate — and high school students themselves are doing a good job of reporting on what's at stake.

In New Jersey, most teachers and school staff at Point Pleasant Borough High School are pretty lenient in wanting to let kids dress up and ask for candy, according to a story by Point Press student reporter Layla V. about how old is too old.

"It's a hard question because if you're wearing a costume, you can go out," teacher Kiara Bolger was quoted saying, "but if not then there is no point... otherwise, maybe 15."

In Peachtree City, Ga., The McIntosh Trail — the student news site of McIntosh High School — found that some teenagers planned to spend Halloween going to parties, and watching scary movies. But some said it was fine for teenagers to trick-or-treat, especially if they have younger brothers or sisters to go out with.

Reporter Estrella Jones spoke to one student who summed up why some teens might want to keep breaking out the candy pumpkin.

"I am going trick or treating, I don't think it has an age limit," one sophomore said. "My childhood was an important time in my life, I think it's cool that I get to keep a little bit of it each year as I grow up."

That jibes with what many adults say: that there's nothing wrong with clinging to childhood, especially if teens are willing to wear a costume and stay out of trouble.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.