Who among us hasn't heard the urban legends about the perils of Halloween? According to popular lore, flashers in trench coats and psychopaths in Jason masks are lurking behind every shrub. Our trick-or-treat buckets are packed with cyanide-filled Pixie Sticks, adulterated Snickers bars, and the odd razor blade deviously concealed inside a bright-red candied apple.
But the fact is, most of these tales are fiction (well, the cyanide thing really happened, way back in 1974). The causes of most injuries and fatalities on Halloween and Mischief Night are less colorful, but the results are equally terrifying: eye injuries, burns, blunt trauma, that sort of thing. Short of keeping your children home or taking them to an indoor celebration, how can you keep them safe? Read on to find out what the experts suggest.
Automobiles pose the greatest danger to your child's safety on trick-or-treat night. One study found that at least four times as many pedestrian deaths occur among children on Halloween, compared with an ordinary night. You can reduce the likelihood of a pedestrian accident by taking some simple precautions:
Chances are, your Power Ranger will be on a search-and-devour mission. This single-minded focus on procuring treats can make children careless, so it's important to lead them around the neighborhood—don't let them lead you.
Make sure drivers can see you and your children can see them. Carry flashlights, choose light-colored costumes, and affix reflective tape to costumes and trick-or-treat sacks. Masks, hoods, helmets, and the like should fit correctly and not restrict your child's peripheral (side) vision. When in doubt, choose face paint or makeup instead of a homemade mask.
Cross the street at crosswalks and traffic lights. Your child will be intent on filling up his or her treat bag as efficiently as possible, which may mean zig-zagging from one house to another. If possible, cross the street with a group. Be cautious even when a car allows you to proceed, because vehicles in other lanes may fail to yield.
Don't overestimate children's judgment or physical abilities. Young children may miscalculate the speed of oncoming cars, or they may naively count on vehicles to stop for them. And kids can be clumsy—even Spider Man may not hustle across the street quickly enough, and Cinderella has been known to trip on the hem of her gown.
A review of medical case reports covering a 40-year time span turned up only 80 instances of deliberate food adulteration (food poisoning). Studies in which Halloween candy was x-rayed to identify needles, glass, or other foreign objects have likewise concluded that tampering is rare. As with other holiday hazards, the problems associated with Halloween candy are likely to be garden-variety food safety issues, rather than front-page news. Here are a few tips for smart candy consumption:
A nationwide binge on Blow Pops and fun-size Hershey bars by everyone between the ages of 2 and 12 thwarts the efforts of health experts who are trying to curb childhood obesity. Help your children stay healthy by limiting the amount of candy you let your kids eat daily.
Protect Their Teeth
Snacking on Halloween goodies bathes the teeth in sugar, allowing cavity-forming bacteria to thrive. Limit children's snacking, and make sure they brush their teeth after eating.
Know Choking Hazards
Don't allow young children to eat lozenge-shaped candies, such as Sweet Tarts and Bottle Caps. Their shape makes them a choking hazard for babies and toddlers.
Inspect the Bag
Just to be on the safe side, an adult should inspect children's candy. Discard any open or unwrapped items.
Candy’s Not Always the Culprit
Keep an eye on the other items young children put in their mouths. A recent study found lead paint on about 12% of Easter and Halloween novelty items tested.
From sheep shearing to extreme ironing, safety in any activity boils down to common sense. The same is true of Halloween activities. Here are some sensible ways to keep trouble from paying you a visit:
Use a Chaperone
Young children should always be chaperoned by an adult. A home address and phone number should be pinned to a hem or placed in a pocket in case the child becomes separated from his or her escorts.
Give Them a Phone
All children old enough to dial a phone should know how and in what circumstances to call 911.
Children old enough to go out unaccompanied should stay in a group and carry change or a cell phone. Before they leave, review their route, tell them what time to be home, and be sure you know how to contact them if they don't return on time.
Talk to Your Teen
If your teenagers are going out, discuss with them who will be driving. Offer to drop off and pick up the group from a mall, a drug-and-alcohol-free party, or another safe celebration. Holiday weekends are dicey enough without an inexperienced driver at the wheel, especially one who is intoxicated.
Several states now require registered sex offenders to post signs indicating that no candy is offered at their homes. Some laws prohibit sex offenders from decorating their homes, wearing costumes, or participating in Halloween-related events. Parolees in one Texas town must report to mandatory counseling sessions intended to keep them occupied while the kids are trick-or-treating.
No evidence supports the rumor that child molesters are more active on Halloween than on any other date on the calendar. Nevertheless, advise children not to enter the home or car of a person unknown to them. Check your state's database to find out which of your neighbors are registered sex offenders. If you think you won't find any near you, you're in for an unwelcome surprise.