Halloween takes on a new life once kids get a little older — the night becomes less about candy and more about spending time with friends, the costumes get a little more creative (and ones they'll definitely want to pick without your help), and their desire for a few hours way from adults continues to grow. The change usually hits toward the end of grade school, when kids are in their preteen years.
As parents, even though we usually know what's best for our kids and hone in on that superpower gut instinct, we don't always have the answer. The truth? A lot of us are out here winging it, and navigating the rules of trick-or-treating with (or without) supervision on Halloween is no different. Luckily for us, though, two top parenting experts chatted with POPSUGAR about when it's OK for kids to go trick-or-treating without adult supervision, and both agree that multiple factors come into play.
"So much of what determines the appropriate age for a child to go trick-or-treating alone (with a group of friends) depends on the neighborhood, along with the child's personality and level of maturity," Dr. Jenn Mann, lead psychotherapist, host of VH1's Family Therapy with Dr. Jenn, and author of The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy, Confident Kids, tells POPSUGAR. "While most experts say 13 is a reasonable age for trick-or-treating with friends, it's important that parents assess the safety of their neighborhood and the maturity and judgment of their child."
Dr. Rosina McAlpine, CEO and creator of the Win Win Parenting Program and editor of Inspired Children: How the Leading Minds of Today Raise Their Kids, agrees: "While there is no one definitive 'appropriate' or 'safe' age for children to go out trick-or-treating by themselves that applies to all children, in all circumstances, many parents consider allowing their children to go on their own, without a parent or guardian accompanying them, around 10 to 12 years of age."
Both experts strongly stress that age isn't the only thing to consider for parents who are trying to figure out whether or not their child is ready to trick-or-treat without them — they have to prove that they're ready, too. "A child who consistently follows rules and keeps their commitment to their parent is showing a sense of responsibility and awareness," says Dr. Jenn. "Some other signs of readiness include being comfortable staying home alone for short periods of time and successful outings to safe places, like the mall, with a group of friends."
If an older child does seem to be ready for some solo trick-or-treating this year, Dr. McAlpine says it's crucial for parents to sit down with them and discuss how to handle unsafe scenarios while trick-or-treating. "Parents should have a heart-to-heart conversation with their child about what they intend to do, who they're going with, and how they might respond in various situations," she says. Dr. McAlpine also suggests asking kids situational questions, like "What if someone invites you into their home or car?" and "What will you do if you get lost or separated from the group?" to get a better feel for whether or not they'll respond properly in a risky or dangerous situation. "The maturity of their responses is one indicator of how they might fare alone," she says. "But parents should continue to guide and support them so they can manage these situations appropriately and safely."
The bottom line: a tween or preteen might fit all the requirements to trick-or-treat with just their friends on Halloween, but it's critical for parents to still provide them with the best safety tools — and enforce rules — before sending them off. "Children should travel in packs, and within the pack they should have a 'buddy' who they stay with at all times," says Dr. Jenn. She also suggests that children establish a safe meeting place in case someone gets separated from the group, have a plan for when a friend needs to use the bathroom, and to always allow a child to borrow a cell phone in case of an emergency.