Time for a Kinder, Gentler Halloween

From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 26, 2001 -- People are walking on eggshells as Halloween approaches.

Spooked by fears that little ghosts or goblins might get hurt, many cities are advising parents to keep kids indoors on trick-or-treat night. Some cities have actually cancelled trick-or-treating, in favor of indoor parties.

A mall in Chicago's suburbs has put the kibosh on Halloween festivities. Deep in the heart of Texas, San Antonio has scaled back its world-renowned Day of the Dead celebration.

In Arkansas, Gov. Mike Huckabee is discouraging parents from letting kids go door to door, fearful that parents will flood emergency hotlines with questions about suspicious candy. What's really in those Pixie Sticks anyway? Could it be anthrax?

"We're just saying use good common sense," says Sgt. Terry Hastings of the Little Rock Police Department. "We're giving the same suggestions we have for years -- go only to houses where you know people."

After all, Halloween has always made people jittery, Hastings tells WebMD. Remember the days when the only thing we feared was a razor blade in our treats? "Even when I was a kid, we had to watch our candy," he remembers.

Removing the "fright factor" -- and inspiring kids to help others -- that's what pediatricians and psychologists advocate this Halloween.

"Kids are frightened enough," says Susan Pollack, MD, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Kentucky and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Injury and Poison Prevention.

"They don't need a big burden of extra scary stuff," she tells WebMD. "This Halloween is an opportunity to be imaginative rather than scary. We need to lessen the burden of violence on our kids."

April Lloyd -- mother of a two-year-old -- couldn't agree more. She's organizing Halloween activities in her Atlanta neighborhood called Kirkwood, passing out maps of designated "safe houses" where kids can trick-or-treat without getting freaked out, she tells WebMD.

Her fears aren't so much based on recent events, says Lloyd. It's more about re-creating the gentler tradition she remembers from childhood.

"Things are so different from when I was a kid," she tells WebMD. "People just don't trust each other. Last year, people in my neighborhood didn't know what to do. Some went to the malls, others didn't go out at all. This year, we want to give kids the same kind of trick-or-treat night we had."

Continued

'Halloween Lite' is the brainchild of Frank Farley, PhD, a psychologist at Temple University in Philadelphia and former president of the American Psychological Association.

"Halloween is many things -- there's the fun side, the thrill side, the excitement of kids dressing up, playing make believe, going out in neighborhood trick-or-treating with their friends," Farley tells WebMD. "We wouldn't want to change that."

It's the "horror side of Halloween, especially the graphic dress-up -- the bloody limbs and gruesome masks" that he finds ... well, horrific.

Thumbs down, too, on the ultra-violent Halloween movies. "They're just relentlessly violent ... scary stuff, blood and gore," says Farley. "This year, when the national fear factor is at the highest level it's been in decades, I don't want to add much more on top of that."

He'd like to see theme parks tone down their Halloween adventures -- or that people will avoid them altogether. "They can be pretty bloody -- quite realistic," he tells WebMD. "Even an adult can jump out of his seat when this thing falls out of ceiling."

Better yet, bring some real-life magic into this yearly tradition -- make it a good-deed night.

Farley's kids are making little white boxes with a red cross on top, and any contributions will go to the American Red Cross.

Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF -- a tradition for 51 years -- has dedicated its campaign this year to helping the children of Afghanistan, says Mia Drake Brandt, a spokesperson for the international relief organization.

"We're on the ground in and around Afghanistan, and the money will go directly to help children there," Brandt tells WebMD.

One year, her daughter's class raised $150 -- not a huge sum, but it bought one water filter pump, giving clean water to one impoverished community. "Millions of children in impoverished areas die from diarrheal dehydration, which is caused by dirty water," she says.

Every nickel, dime, and quarter collected helps buy children the medicine they need, helps improve communities, says Brandt. In return, trick-or-treaters reap big rewards in terms of self-esteem and compassion.

"Parents want kids to feel good about themselves, and Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF has always done that, " says Brandt. "It helps children become compassionate and aware, which is the most basic part of being a good human being. It give kids a feeling of power in the best sense of the word, that they can help make the world a good place."

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Brandt lives in New York City, and her children's grandparents live six blocks from the World Trade Center.

"We've all been hurting since these things happened," she tells WebMD. "The way to relieve the suffering of others is through action. The smallest child realizes that."

Her three kids will be out trick-or-treat night -- including her 10-year-old son, who is developmentally disabled.

"He saw the huge cloud of smoke at the World Trade Center," Brandt says. "Now he wants to take care of everyone who was hurt by it."

"Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF has quelled his grandiose need to house everyone in our house, to rebuild the Towers. He's very excited about gathering the money. Of course, it's a good thing for anybody to do. But it really makes sense to him."

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD
© 2001 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.

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