Last Halloween Thought: Maybe Parents Should Not EXPECT to Feel “Peace of Mind”

This sshhietbzy
thoughtful note came in response to my post about the child-tracking devices being marketed for Halloween. These devices promise they will provide “peace of mind” to parents otherwise terrified because their kids (even teens) are out in the world, unsupervised.
Dear Free-Range Kids: As the mother of two teenagers I can appreciate how it feels to lose your peace of mind. I never worried about them walking a half mile to the ice cream place when they were younger or any of the traditional stranger-danger that gets discussed here, but now there are times that I worry when they go out because the rope is much longer and quite frankly there have been times when they’ve gotten into trouble–I already know they won’t do the right thing 100% of the time. (And yes I do pull back when this happens, but I can’t lock them in their rooms until they are 18…)

I bring this up here because I totally get how bad it feels to worry, but I think parents are on the wrong track toward easing their peace of mind. Today its trick-or-treating. In a few years it will be going to parties/getting in cars with friends/whatever it is teenagers do, and you can control it less and less. Maybe you think you can rest easy with this app or whatever it is now, but what are you going to do in the next situation? Parents need to get comfortable with being a little nervous when their kids are out and about. Take it from me, someone who never worried about this stuff when they were younger. You have got to let them go eventually, better to do it in small increments not only for them but for you.
I found this fascinating because it made me see the parallel between demanding “absolute safety” — an impossible goal — and demanding “peace of mind,” also impossible.
When we think that the only time we can let our kids have any independence is when we can be CERTAIN nothing “bad” will happen, we end up not giving them that independence at all. There’s a reason only 11% of kids walk to school these days. “What if something bad happens on the way?” is the question we ask — or are told to ask — before we let them  go. The mere possibility of “something bad” happening is enough to trigger all sorts of discomfort. So we hustle the kids into the car. Once we think that peace of mind is something we CAN and MUST have, all bets are off.
So how can we reprogram ourselves?
One way is to remember, first and foremost, that the folks peddling “Peace of mind” are really peddling fear, because fear sells. Their job is to scare you enough that you buy their tracking device. Period.
Another way is to recognize that we THINK this desire for absolute safety is for our children’s sake, but it’s really for our OWN. We don’t want to feel uncomfortable, and if that means our kids lose out on all the joy we relished at their age — including the thrill of trick-or-treating with friends, in the dark, unsupervised — so be it.
Finally, vis a vis Halloween itself, remember: This is a night there are tons of people (and just a few zombies) outside. If there’s only ONE NIGHT a year you might consider letting them go, make it Saturday night. What I’ve seen over and over is that when we let our kids do ONE THING on his/her own and they come home flushed and giddy, the fear filling our hearts gets displaced by sheer joy. It becomes much easier to let the kids out again, and again.
Framed these ways, the tiny bit of risk inherent in all childhood, and all parenting, may become something we can live with…for the sake of our kids. -L


Thank you, mom and dad, for not trailing us!

Thank you, mom and dad, for not trailing or tracking us!


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36 Responses to Last Halloween Thought: Maybe Parents Should Not EXPECT to Feel “Peace of Mind”

  1. theresa hall October 30, 2015 at 11:28 am #

    no such thing as a parent who doesn’t worry. the only thing you can do is teach them to become the best person they can be and hope for the best. and take all info you have to make smart not worry filled choices

  2. Susan October 30, 2015 at 11:40 am #

    My thirteen year old daughter and her best friend wanted to trick or treat by themselves. I was fine with it in my neighborhood or the friend’s. Both neighborhoods are well-lit and self contained. The streets are full of trick or treaters. The friend’s mother was not comfortable with it so she is going to trail them. I had offered to use the iphone tracking if that would make her feel better but no go. I feel the same way as you. These girls will be in high school next year – college in 5 years. We need to baby step them to independance. Seems like a great safe night to allow it. It’s too bad.

  3. Warren October 30, 2015 at 11:43 am #

    I honestly don’t believe it is so much about fear, as it is about control. People these days just don’t like letting go of control.

    theresa hall says there is no such thing as a parent that doesn’t worry. I disagree. I don’t worry. Worry gets you nowhere. You either accept life with all the joy and all the risks or you don’t. But sitting around worrying gets you nothing but ulcers and the like.

    Prime example, when people thought I was cold when I wouldn’t say I worried about my daughter in Thailand. No matter what happened on her trip, no matter what the outcome, none of it was even remotely in my control. Would I be upset if something bad were to happen? Of course, but worrying about it just isn’t in my makeup.

  4. Warren October 30, 2015 at 11:45 am #


    13? Time for baby steps has come and gone. They need leaps and bounds now.

  5. John October 30, 2015 at 11:46 am #

    I LOVE giving out candy to trick-or-treaters BUT unfortunately, rain is in the forecast here for Saturday evening. 🙁 But I’ll still have the candy ready and if I don’t get any trick-or-treaters, I’ll just have to eat all the candy myself! 😉

  6. John October 30, 2015 at 11:55 am #

    But the trick-or-treaters I do get are always accompanied by a parent, especially if there is a little one in the bunch. Golly sakes, when I was a kid a few centuries ago, the older trick-or-treater kids (11 or 12) ALWAYS took care of the little ones with no adult present and it was fun! The subdivision I live in is ideal for trick-or-treaters. 0 crime rate and extremely low traffic. But yet I get fewer and fewer kids each year and considering rain is in the forecast for tomorrow night, I may not get any kids. 🙁

  7. James Pollock October 30, 2015 at 12:10 pm #

    The way to obtain “peace of mind” is to raise your kids such that you are confident that if they need your help with something (anything), they’ll ask for it, and if they’re not calling on you for help, it’s because they don’t need it.

    So… if my daughter needs my help, she’ll call me. If she’s not calling me, she’s fine. Mission accomplished.
    Of course, I can still worry about what other people might do. I’m not worried she’ll drink and drive… but there’s plenty of other people out there who will be.

  8. Coasterfreak October 30, 2015 at 12:11 pm #

    When my kids got to the point where they wanted to go out on Halloween alone (it’s been about 6 years since the youngest decided he was done with having mom & dad tag along) I was initially disappointed because I absolutely loved dressing up in a costume and roaming the neighborhood with them. It had nothing to do with thinking they weren’t safe without me, I was just glad I had an excuse to dress up and go out again since I grew out of TOT’ing myself. For a few years, I continued to dress up and sit out on the porch with candy, but the past two years I got zero TOT’ers at my house. I’m at the end of a cul-de-sac near the front of my neighborhood, and most of the action is further back in the neighborhood, plus there’s just fewer kids out in general.

    So this year I’ll spend my Halloween night sitting in the dark in my house watching horror movies, like I did during the years after I grew out of TOT’ing and before I had kids. Next year I think I’m going to set up a haunted house in my garage and put out a sign on the main road and hope people come.

  9. Christopher Byrne October 30, 2015 at 12:44 pm #

    Train your children to be responsible and take care of themselves on their own from their earliest days and while you’ll still worry–That’s what parents do.–you can have the confidence that they have experience and know how to figure things out and ask for help from–gasp–a stranger if needed. If being self-reliant is an every day lesson, Halloween should be a no-brainer when there are hordes of kids and families with candy looking out for them.

  10. Doug October 30, 2015 at 12:45 pm #

    Back when I did martial arts on a regular basis one of our exercises was to hit our shins and forearms with a wooden rod. Repeatedly. While everyone started off doing it lightly, the goal was to do it hard. There was bruising, and pain, but what was happening beneath our skin was that the bone beneath was breaking ever so slightly. Not enough to be a “broken bone.” But when that healed, it healed such so the bone was denser than before. And you kept doing this. Eventually, your bones were hard enough so that when you needed to use them, you could do so without breaking your arm or leg.

    This is one of the tricks of how martial artists break ten bricks at a time: their minds and bodies have been sufficiently conditioned.

    Our children are the same way. Without conditioning, they will fail the test when they jump into the deep end.

  11. Barry Lederman October 30, 2015 at 12:46 pm #

    Warren, I fully agree with your comments, both about fear being a disguise for control ; and the fact that it doesn’t pay to worry about what’s out of your hands. Both are profound life lessons.

  12. K October 30, 2015 at 2:03 pm #

    The irony of that photo + caption, of course, is that someone, camera in hand, had to be standing right behind those kids!

  13. Shannon October 30, 2015 at 2:24 pm #

    Personally for me it’s impossible not to worry. I just need to live with the worry and count on my 12-year-old to be able to handle herself. Last Halloween when she was 11 she and a friend went out trick-or-treating by themselves in our neighborhood. The year before she had gone alone but we had given her street boundaries. Last year was with no boundaries. I wasn’t worried so much about the trick-or-treating itself but her friend had a blood disorder at the time that could have been very serious if she fell and injured herself. I kept worrying about them running and tripping over something in the dark and her friend having internal bleeding from an injury. However her friend’s mother was fine with them going out alone so I decided I should be fine with it too. I did worry a bit but it would have been really annoying if I followed them around all night yelling “Don’t run!” so I had to trust them to be careful. They had a great time and came back just fine with no problems. I will still worry but have to manage it myself because as others have pointed out, there is always going to be the next situation to come along.

  14. JulieC October 30, 2015 at 2:34 pm #

    I heard Marc Klaas (father of Polly Klaas) on the news this morning advising that children 12 and under need to go out in groups AND with a parent to trick or treat. This just seems silly to me. How many kids are attacked or murdered each year while trick or treating?

    I feel badly for him – but the fact is, his daughter was kidnapped while in her own home, with her friends and her mother there. None of that, unfortunately, made a difference to a determined predator.

    I need to stop listening to the news.

  15. Susan October 30, 2015 at 3:43 pm #

    I gave my 14 year old son the authority to use Uber whenever he felt it was necessary (when friends were acting crazy & he needed to get out of bad situation, good forbid, if one of his friends drives drunk.) Anyway, this has solved a lot of problems & he feels very grown up using it. I feel good that he has a safe choice & doesn’t have to drive or hang out with people who may be drunk. Everybody is happy including the Uber company.

  16. EricS October 30, 2015 at 4:16 pm #

    @Warren: My take, it is about “fear”. “Losing control” is just another form of fear. I have some concerns from time to time, but these are only about certain things, or situations I’m not familiar with…or rather all too familiar with. lol eg. Nieces and nephews going to party. At 13-15 years old, I know what kids will be thinking. My concern would be that they’re coerced into something they don’t want to do. But I don’t worry. Because I know their parents and uncles raised them right. Concern happens initially and subsides within a few minutes for me.

    And yes, I agree. At 13 for Susan’s daughter is past baby steps. Time to start leaping. Baby steps should have happened from the time they were 2-3 years old. Children are more than capable of learning and understanding at that age. This is not only baby steps for the kids, but also for the parents. We as parents have as much learning to do as our children, when it comes to being parents. And that “worrying” does no one any good. That’s like someone clinging on to someone hanging off the edge of cliff. Just clinging and crying. Not actually trying to get out of the situation using a calm and collected head. Which is very doable.

    James Pollack: Nailed it. There will always be some kind of concern for our kids. But it’s how we react and deal with it that matters.

  17. Liz K October 30, 2015 at 4:22 pm #

    Last year, my husband and I had a sentimental celebration when both of our kids went out trick or treating by themselves. It was a passage for them, for us, for our family. We lit a fire, opened a bottle of wine, and enjoyed some time together passing out treats at home! We celebrated that we have all passed into a new, more independent season for them and for us as a couple. Imagine if all passages could be celebrated instead of feared!

  18. sexhysteria October 30, 2015 at 4:32 pm #

    Rebelliousness in young people is directly proportional to adult attempts at control. Training kids for the future? The more parents try to control their kids, the more the kids will rebel.

    As far as the supposed risks of kids on the loose, here’s a good story from Maggie McNeil: “There are about 40,000 girls aged 13-17 in San Diego; this “study” claims that 30% of them become “victims of sex trafficking” every year…”

  19. olympia October 30, 2015 at 5:01 pm #

    I loathe this idea, freely expressed by “experts” that to be a good parent, you have to worry. Fuck you, experts- do you know what worrying does to people? It does tend to happen anyway, but you don’t have to INVITE it.

  20. Beth October 30, 2015 at 5:18 pm #

    “I need to stop listening to the news.”

    Or maybe the news needs to stop giving a platform to those whose experience (child kidnapped from home with family present) has nothing to do with the topic about which he speaks (trick-or-treating on the same night that everyone else is trick-or-treating).

    Yeah, dream on, right?

  21. sue October 31, 2015 at 12:00 am #

    Shannon, I hear you, but I am the mom on the other side. My son has hemophilia. Since he was eight or nine I have taught him to explain to his friends what a bleed is, and what to do. Early on, I did a lot of the explaining. Imagine my delight when a high school friend of his, whom I had just met, casually mentioned my son’s hemophilia. My son is 15, and he has learned to alert his friends to his disease, and what to do in an emergency. Thanks for letting your kid trick or treat alone with my kid. We have had many parents hover in fear. Your kid can learn how to take care of my kid, if needed, and both kids will be stronger for it. Thanks for allowing it, and, frankly, thanks for worrying a bit. I worry too.

  22. lsl October 31, 2015 at 12:57 am #

    Last year, my nieces (then 14 & 11) took my nephew (then 9) & godchildren (then 6 & 4) ToT around my neighborhood. This year, the oldest one is volunteering with CAPSA, & there’s a new godson (10 months), and some friends (10, 8, & 7) will be joining them. I’m thinking that’s going to be too much for the 12-y-o to manage on her own (partly because of the baby & temperatures), & thinking of suggesting to the parents that we let the older boys be their own team, the girls all go together, & an adult take the youngest boys. Niece, nephew, & older godchildren are all very familiar with my neighborhood, they’ve all spent at least a week at a time at my place, gone to church with us, & to the park as a group. We’ll see what the parents say tomorrow.

  23. lollipoplover October 31, 2015 at 8:10 am #

    Peace of mind this morning was looking out my window at the frost on the lawn (so beautiful) and then looking up at the trees and realizing we were TP’ed on Mishchief Night! Yeah!!
    It makes my heart skip a beat (and I took pictures!) that this night of stupidity still lives on in the next generation.

  24. MI Dawn October 31, 2015 at 10:33 am #

    Well, for a lot of kids in New Jersey, Trick-or-Treating won’t be scary because it won’t happen after dark. Several towns (and I’m living in one!) have curfews of 7:30 pm for all under 18!!! Ridiculous.

  25. theresa hall October 31, 2015 at 12:06 pm #

    it is ok to worry some. just try not go overboard. my mom still worries even though she doesn’t helicopter me.

  26. Lois M October 31, 2015 at 1:25 pm #

    Five years ago, when my first grandchild was born, I told her parents that if they would let her do a little more than they were comfortable with, they would be doing fine!
    My oldest grandchild is now quite the independent kindergartener. I’m sure most of her teachers don’t know what to do with her. I’m pleased. Obviously, they have been following my advice. I’m sure she is far more independent than most of her peers and will be one of those poised, self-assured young ladies when she gets older.
    Do we worry? A bit. There is always a slight unease that goes along with the process of raising a child. Would I exchange it for “peace of mind”? No! I would rather have an independent, well-prepared youngster than complete peace of mind.

  27. Rook October 31, 2015 at 3:58 pm #

    The forecast is rainy and drizzly. Bah. My Superman needs to save the neighbors from their surplus of candy! Or the neighbors in the nearby neighborhood. Some of the uppity people can call me overprotective all they want, but I’m not kicking a toddler out into the rain to walk several miles among wild dogs, coyotes, and bobcats to the nearest house to go trick or treat. I’ll drive him. And won’t feel a damn bit guilty doing it either.

  28. LTMG October 31, 2015 at 6:23 pm #

    Want peace of mind? Raise our children to be self-reliant, confident, and capable. Teach them how to recognize and manage risks. When they make mistakes, let our children fix their own problems. Yes, we should guide children and be ready to advise them. Then, in their adulthood, our children will be able to take care of themselves and their families. In our retirement, we will have peace of mind and can better enjoy our remaining years.

  29. ChicagoDad October 31, 2015 at 8:44 pm #

    Slow night in our neighborhood. Only about 175 trick-or-treaters. Cold rain kept people indoors until around 5:30. Still, not bad! A good, fun, old-fashioned Halloween on the southwest side of Chicago!

  30. Warren October 31, 2015 at 9:49 pm #

    M Dawn,

    Has anyone ever challenged the legality of these curfews? I know I would.

    And James, keep out of this.

  31. Diane October 31, 2015 at 10:30 pm #

    My 11 year old took off by himself this year to trick or treat around the neighborhood. We returned with the younger ones to a neighbor’s block party, and were wondering where he was after a while, but we didn’t get worried. He showed up after a bit; he had gotten a little lost and went in a circle a couple of times before he realized he was a block off. He was not upset, and I think he is a bit proud of himself for solving his own problem. I’m proud of him, too!

  32. ArchimedesScrew October 31, 2015 at 11:21 pm #

    They definitely shouldnt given the morons walking around our neighborhood in all black against a freshly paved rd with no reflective strips.


  33. lsl November 1, 2015 at 12:59 am #

    Well, the 16-tomorrow niece showed up, with a friend. They took the baby, one of the moms went with the other boys, & the four girls (7-12) went on their own. Then the 3 youngest went home, & the rest went to the nieces’ & nephew’s neighborhood for more ToT.

  34. Papilio November 1, 2015 at 3:03 pm #

    @lsl: Maybe a stupid question, but what is the point of taking a baby ToT’ing?

  35. Katie November 1, 2015 at 4:27 pm #

    Our kids are too young to go out on their own (5 and 2), particularly given that our neighborhood is not well-lit and has sections with no sidewalks, including our block. We went out with both kids, with LED flashers on all 4 of us and a good flashlight. We stayed on the sidewalk and sent the 5 year old up to houses; the 2 year old was around 50/50 on either standing with us or going up with her sister. We did help the 2 year old with steps when she chose to go up to a house because there were several packs of very impatient teens (dressed in dark costumes with no lights/glowsticks/reflectors) who kept rudely pushing past young kids in their haste to collect more candy.

    Our older daughter has a bleeding disorder that could complicate matters if, say, she fell and split her head open on someone’s slate wall. We still let her go up to houses on her own – if such a thing was to happen, we know what to do and have medication at home to help. It’s not like our hovering would make her less likely to trip and fall.

    The biggest danger was the several cars creeping slowly through the neighborhood while kids trick or treated. We first noticed this last year and there were even more people doing it this year. These people would follow their kids from house to house rather than parking and walking with their kids or waiting while the kids went to trick or treat on their own. Nearly every driver doing this was going along at 2-3 MPH with their freaking cell phones out, paying little attention to what was around them.

  36. lsl November 2, 2015 at 10:26 am #


    There are several possible reasons to take a baby ToT: show off their costume, meet neighbors, give teens responsibility, get candy for yourself, or just because it’s fun.