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Lenore Skenazy

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As Goes Halloween, So Goes Childhood

Posted: 10/30/09 01:56 PM ET

Forget all the guys in Bernie Madoff masks and tutus. If you want to see something really scary on Halloween, come to my apartment around 9 p.m.I'm letting my kids eat unwrapped candy.

They can eat any homemade goodies they get, too, and that unholy of unholies: candy where the wrapper is slightly torn. And on the very off chance they get an apple, they can gnaw it to the core, so long as there's not a razor-sized, dripping gash on the side.

Which always seemed like it would be a kind of give-away that something was amiss.

It's not that I'm cavalier about safety. I'm just a sucker -- so to speak -- for the facts. And the fact is: No child has been poisoned by a stranger's goodies on Halloween, ever, as far as we can determine. Joel Best, a sociology professor at the University of Delaware, studied November newspapers from 1958 to the present, scouring them for any accounts of kids felled by felonious candy. And...he didn't find any. He did find one account of a boy poisoned by a Pixie Stix his father gave him. Dad did it for the insurance money and, Best says, he probably figured that so many kids are poisoned on Halloween, no one would notice one more.

Well, they did and dad was executed. That's Texas for you. Another boy died after he got into his uncle's heroin stash and relatives tried to make it look like he'd been killed by candy. And that's it.

Now look at how the fear that our nice, normal-seeming neighbors might actually be moppet-murdering psychopaths has turned the one kiddie independence day of the year into yet another excuse to micromanage childhood.

It's not just the fact that churches and community centers are throwing parties so that kids don't go out on their own. It's not just the fact that Bobtown, Pennsylvania has gone so far as to "cancel" Halloween altogether -- for the sake of "safety." (The authorities there were surprised to find this decision unpopular.) It's not even that those of us who'd like to hand out homemade cookies know they'll be instantly tossed in the trash.

No, the truly spooky thing is that Halloween has become a riot of warnings that are way scarier than the holiday itself. The website Halloween-Safety.com recommends that if your child is carrying a fake butcher knife, make sure the tip is "smooth and flexible enough to not cause injury if fallen upon."

Excuse me? Has anyone ever seen a knife land blade-side up? And then fallen on it? Meantime, schools around the country are sending this note home to parents: "Please, no scary costumes." In England last year a man was ordered by his landlord to take down his lawn decorations because the zombies were too "realistic."

In other words: They looked too much like...real zombies?

Our fears are so overblown they'd be laughable if they didn't sound so much like the fears that are haunting us the rest of the year. Fears that have lead to parents to wait with their kids at the school bus stop, and keep them inside on sunny afternoons. Fears that make parents forbid their kids from skipping down the street to invite a friend out to play. That's the everyday version of Halloween fear: The fear that we cannot trust our children amongst our neighbors for one single second because, who knows, they might be pedophiles just waiting to pounce.

If you want to see what childhood is becoming, look how at what Halloween has already become: A parent-planned, climate-controlled, child-coddled, corporate-sponsored "event," where kids are considered too delicate to even survive the sight of a scary costume.

If you want to see what childhood is becoming, look how at what Halloween has already become: A parent-planned, climate-controlled, child-coddled, corporate-sponsored "event," You know. Like if someone came dressed as a slightly torn Snickers.

Skenazy is founder of freerangekids.com and author of "Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry."