While Halloween 2020 took a solid punch to the liver by COVID-19, it remains the reigning champion of holidays for camaraderie-building. In my opinion, it’s actually the healthiest holiday for kids. Now that might sound crazy due to all the candy in play, but I’m referring to mental health and social development. Let’s level set before we go any further. I’m not talking about trick-or-treating in malls, from the trunks of cars in a parking lot, or with squadrons of helicopter parents circling a group of kids as they go door-to-door. I’m speaking of kids getting together with their friends and other neighborhood chums, then hitting the bricks on the scariest of eves. Maybe I can best explain by first taking you on a stroll down memory lane, at least in my neighborhood as a kid.
First, the leadup to Halloween was palpable, it was so exciting for my friends and me. We would begin discussing costume selection long before the ghoulish night arrived, ensuring there were no mixups of us wearing the same ensemble. Two Darth Vaders in the same group would have been total amateur-hour. Just like a real-life risky mission, this would be just one important detail of the planning phase. Additionally, we weren’t relying on pesky parents to coordinate things, that was our job. We were looking at the neighborhood landscape and putting the team together. Next, was intelligence-gathering. With no internet to ruin things, there were plenty of rumors that seemed to suggest a variety of risks and dangers. From serial killers to razor-laden apples, this created an air of danger and played into the idea that it was a mission with chances of real exposure. By the way, what was “The Mission” you ask? Simply put, accumulate as much candy as possible while avoiding older kids snatching your pillowcase full of chocolaty and sugary treasure…and evade Michael Myers and other fictional killers. This was one of the few times a year where we were allowed off-the-leash, to roam free at dark with no parental supervision. Oh, the thrill…year after year, great memories. You may be asking, “How exactly does the aforementioned insanity qualify as a healthy experience? Well, lets break it down.
Group play is vitally important to the development of kids, that’s one of the major deficiencies we are seeing today in children. If it’s not the constant screens and social media our kids are distracted by, it’s the intrusion by overprotective parents and their need to overshare. Group play is where kids learn to navigate the world, solving their own problems and armoring them against the kind of anxiety and fragility we are witnessing today. To top it off, when combined with elements of danger like Halloween can induce, camaraderie and cohesion are soon to follow. You remember all those great movies from the ’80s, like “The Goonies”. A group of kids embarks on an adventure mixed with adversity and danger and wallah! They become best of friends with an inseparable bond and great stories to tell, just like Combat Marines!
Doses of Danger in a Controlled Environment
Kids become resilient when they are exposed to perceived troubles and feel like they won a bout with calamity. Halloween provides a child’s imagination with many potential risks. Additionally, just knowing what an adrenaline-rush feels like, even if induced by a Halloween-obsessed overzealous neighbor chasing you out of their yard with a chainless chainsaw, is a valuable experience and can thicken our mental armor. It’s easy for some parents to think they are doing their kids a favor by shielding them from these rites of passage. However, we just rob them of the chances to naturally evolve and potentially set them on a reverse course, prone to anxiety and fragility.
Halloween is the only holiday we would typically spend with our closest buddies, out in the night, trying to accomplish the mission (get candy and stay alive) while collectively avoiding the perceived dangers of such a spooky and haunting environment. The results for my friends and I were the joy of camaraderie, tons of thrills, and future stories to reminisce over. Even today, I still share a special kinship with those childhood friends that I spent those Halloween nights with. Even in our 50’s, we recall some of those thrills as if we were telling war stories. It shouldn’t be surprising, just like the brotherly bonding of those in war, a similar dynamic is in play. When a group endures hardship, danger, or adversity together (even if pretend), cohesion will result.
So, loosen up the reigns and let them embark on their mission. Encourage them to trick or treat in a group of their closest pals. As they get older, give them a bit of rope to experience some adventure by themselves. Besides, they will need that close-in supervision when they return home with all that teeth-rotting treasure.