Every year in the days leading up to Halloween, the question of a cut-off age for trick-or-treating rears its ugly head. “Only grade-schoolers,” some scream. “Well, maybe up to age 12, but absolutely no teenagers,” others counter. “The city should pass a law,” some demand, while those unconsciously draping themselves in a libertarian’s cloak respond, “Leave the government out of this.”
But for all the haggling, the bottom line is rather simple: There is nothing you can do to control who knocks on your door to beg for candy. I learned this lesson when the joy I anticipated experiencing on Halloween handing out candy as a first-time homeowner turned to disappointment and a smidgen of anger at the number of non-kid knockers rudely demanding a treat.
Of course, you could just turn off the lights and avoid the entire sordid affair. But there’s another option that allows you to enjoy the night, the costumes, and the fun of watching the youngsters in all their glory, while thwarting attempts by angst-inducing teenagers donning random make-up hashmarks and proclaiming themselves treat-worthy.
The solution? A tiered candy system. By allocating treats based on the appropriateness of the little (or big!) ghosts and goblins’ costumes and age, you create your own de facto rules governing trick-or-treating. A three-tier system works ideal for this purpose.
The top-tier treat consists of full-sized candy bars and is awarded to neighbor children you know who are appropriately attired for Halloween. “Appropriately attired” depends on their age. A decent effort for the younger types suffices, while children in the double-digit range must present a stronger effort to reach tier one.
Unknown kids appearing at the stoop also qualify for a tier-one treat if their costumes excel. Ensemble costumes almost always make the mark, likely because I have fond memories of trick-or-treating in seventh grade as Green Grapes from the Fruit of the Loom gang. My friends rounded out the then-familiar characters from the television advertisement, including Granny, Purple Grapes, Apple, and Leaves.
Any saint costume commemorating the true meaning of All Hallows Eve scores a straight shot to tier one as well.
The second tier is a mini-sized candy bar. Absent startling rudeness, which drops the ruffian to the bottom tier, this middle-tier is the default for kids about ages nine and younger. While applause-worthy costumes might justify a bump to a full-size candy bar, any costume for the youngest trick-or-treaters suffices because those of tender years must rely on their parents’ assistance.
Not so, though, for those aged 10 and up. They have the ability to create their own outfits, so to score a tier-two treat they need a good effort at a costume. A minimal (or no) effort pushes them down to the bottom tier.
Tier three is the edible version of the Charlie Brown rock—an individually wrapped jaw breaker. This tier provides a token treat for those who have no business ringing the doorbell: older kids who don’t bother crafting a costume; extremely rude children; and parents expecting candy for themselves (unless decked out to coordinate with junior’s costume, in which case a mini or full-size candy bar is awarded depending on the effort).
Keeping the candy from each of the three tiers together inside a deep plastic pumpkin allows for easy distribution of the appropriate treat. The execution is really not that complex. If you feel your inner grinch rising as you open the door and see who awaits, reach for the jawbreaker and vanquish your sour mood with the undeserving.
On the other hand, if your visitors bring a smile of recognition or their attire induces an awe-inspired “Wow,” grab the full-size candy bar and enjoy a few minutes of chit-chat and gushing admiration. The default mini-sized treat goes to everyone else.
There is also no need for the lower-tiered visitors to even get a glimpse of the unobtainable loot awaiting other children. They need never know you even had a system. And you need never stew again as high schoolers venture out on Halloween night with nary a thought to their age or attire.