Even though a few hours of daylight remain, the porch light is on. Any other evening, that could mean the resident simply forgot to turn off the light from the night before. But this is no ordinary night. It’s Halloween. And the illumination to the front door is a Bat Signal invitation for trick-or-treaters in disguise to come marching forth on this final night of October.
So with the bowl full of candy in the crook of your arm, you hold the door ajar and dole out the goodies to the little tykes who, once assured they’ve received their share of the bounty, scurry off toward the next porch light. This foursome included Spider-Man, a pirate and a princess, while the youngest, perhaps 4 years old, appeared to be either a cat or some sort of rodent. She is the caboose to this tiny train.
Just as you’re about to duck inside, you see two more figures walking up the drive. They are neither in costume nor small. The tallest one, with a voice deeper than most of your evening’s little visitors, drones "Trick or treat," then holds out a plastic grocery sack that appears to be half full.
You guess both to be approximately 15 or 16. The tallest one, about 5-foot-9, has the beginnings of a light mustache. Or, it could be the shadow from the dim light. Two candy bars later, they exit the porch in the same direction as the princess and the rodent.
Which makes you wonder: Should there be a trick or treat cutoff age?
There’s no law against it, is there?
"I think that really falls to the homeowner when they answer the door and see an 18-year-old standing there with a pillowcase extended, expecting candy," says Fort Wayne Police spokesman Mike Joyner.
Yet in Norfolk, Virginia, an ordinance is on the books that prohibits anyone ages 13 or older from trick-or-treating. It’s considered a Class 4 misdemeanor.
Alice Jordan-Miles, assistant director of the Behavioral Health and Family Studies Institute at IPFW, says she recently had a conversation with her 14-year-old daughter about this very issue.
"I have a freshman who’s in high school, and she thinks she’s going to go trick-or-treating door-to-door. And she’s not," Jordan-Miles says.
"I just don’t think it’s appropriate for kids, especially the kids who go trick-or-treating and they don’t wear a costume."
Jordan-Miles says she and her neighbor have an annual ritual in which they will greet the trick-or-treaters and comment on their costumes – so long as they take the time and effort to wear one.
"We do not give candy to kids who are not in a costume," she says. "They don’t take it very good. Then we worry about what’s going to happen to our house."
It was several years ago, she says, when eggs were thrown at her home.
"I do think it’s appropriate that they can go to a haunted house or anything like that," Jordan-Miles says. "I don’t have a problem with that. But kids who trick or treat, especially those who are not in a costume, it diminishes the act or the process of trick-or-treating, if you will."
Sue Anderson, a mother of three, didn’t have a hard-and-fast rule of when her children could or could not trick or treat.
"It was up to them, actually," she says. "They went until they started feeling foolish."
Her daughter, Katy Anderson, now 26, would often accompany her twin brother, Kris, when they were younger.
"I want to say we fell out of it by the time we were 13 or 14," Anderson says. "I wanted to go out and do stuff with my friends, and he just wanted to do his own thing. So the whole candy-gathering thing sounded less appealing at that point."
Both mother and daughter admit they will give candy to older teenagers if they come around.
"I won’t refuse them, because there are so few that come by anyway," Katy Anderson says. "It doesn’t bother me too much."
Says Sue Anderson: "I guess I feel a bit irritated and sad for the individual. I can’t believe that they would truly need free candy that badly. … I don’t deny them a treat, but I don’t praise or say what a great costume. I will drop something in their bag, but not kindly acknowledge them."
As for Joyner, he has his own suggestion on what to give the older trick-or-treater: "A job application."