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Thursday, Oct 18, 2018
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How old is too old to go trick-or-treating on Halloween?

Brandi Eatman guesses the boy was at least 15.

If he had a costume on, it wasn't obvious. He was actually talking on his cellphone when he approached the door that Halloween night. He didn't say "trick or treat." He didn't say "thank you." He didn't even make eye contact.

"He was sure he would get candy because he had a pillow case," she said.

It was eight years ago, before Eatman had the three children who now dominate her attention on the annual evening prowl for candy. But the experience fortified Eatman's answer to a question parents, tweens and teens face every year come Oct. 31: How old is too old to go trick-or-treating?

Eatman, 34, says her children will stop begging door to door for candy when they're older than 14 — right around the time their focus shifts from toys and games to driver's licenses and dates.

"Your childhood has to end at some point," said Eatman, who lives in Wimauma. "You don't believe in Santa or the tooth fairy forever."

There are plenty of parents who are happy to encourage their children to hold on to the innocence associated with trick-or-treating as long into high school as they want. Take Jodi Badelli of Odessa, whose daughter went trick-or-treating with friends last Halloween when she was 15.

"I am happy that she and her friends still wanted to dress up and do that, rather than some of the alternatives," she said.

It can be circumstantial, many agree, as some children just aren't as mature as their peers. Yet the debate has persisted enough through the decades to prompt at least a couple of communities to create their own age restrictions.

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A city in the Canadian province of New Brunswick has made national news because of its bylaw that capped the trick-or-treating age at 14. Since the 2005 law made headlines last Halloween, the deputy mayor of Bathurst pushed to abolish it, but she was recently outvoted.

CTV News reported a new law restricting teens 16-plus and ending trick-or-treating at 8 p.m. was passed Monday. Rule-breakers who wear masks after curfew could be fined up to $200.

In Hampton Roads, Va., a 1968 law that is still on the books prohibits trick-or-treating past age 12. Civic leaders passed the law because of Halloween night 1967, when a 14-year-old Portsmouth boy stabbed another boy with a steak knife after stealing his candy, according to the Virginian-Pilot.

Elizabeth Speller, a recent Tampa transplant from that part of Virginia, said a lot of neighborhoods were strict about the rule and made comments, even if the police rarely enforced the mandate. She's thankful that municipalities in Tampa Bay have no such laws. She has a 9-year-old she could see wanting to keep trick-or-treating past 12.

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Does Tampa Bay have any teen mayhem of its own, anyway? Not especially, according to local law enforcement.

A spokeswoman for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said calls for service on Halloweens past did not reveal any trends or major incidents.

St. Petersburg police had a couple of standout calls, such as a 16-year-old who was trick-or-treating with a real butcher's knife. (Police determined it was just part of his costume, and he had no plans to use it.) There was a call for teens smashing pumpkins, a group that threw eggs at a house from a Range Rover and a different teen in a skeleton outfit throwing eggs at cars.

Mischief, yes. But nothing violent that ended in arrests or damage.

For Elliot Sipperley, a 13-year-old from Tampa, the real fun this year is horror parks like Scream-A-Geddon. But she said most of her friends in the seventh grade are planning to go out this year.

She's more into being lost in a haunted maze than into the treats. But she does like munching on candy while she hands it out to the kids who show up at her mom's house. She hasn't gone trick-or-treating since she was 11 and dressed up like a Day of the Dead sugar skull.

"But there shouldn't be an age on it," she said. "As long as you're having fun. Until you're, like, 20."

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From her Seminole Heights porch in Tampa, Caitlin Cook, 35, enjoys watching the trick-or-treaters parade up and down her street. This year, her 3-year-old will dress up like the Transformer Bumblebee for his jaunt through the neighborhood.

The bubbly mother doles out candy to anyone who stops by her house. She doesn't care how old they are or even if they're wearing a legitimate costume. Her street gets only about 30 trick-or-treaters.

"If it was 300," she said, "maybe I'd feel different."

She thrives on the sense of community, the smiles and laughter. "It's one of the few times of the year people actually go to their neighbors' houses."

Contact Sara DiNatale at [email protected] Follow @sara_dinatale.

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