We attempt to answer the age-old question about the age that's too old. 

Maria Yagoda
October 09, 2017

With Halloween fast approaching, people are hurrying to find costumes and solidify their night-of plans. For some, namely pre-teens and teens, there's a looming anxiety surrounding one particular quesiton. How old is too old to trick-or-treat?

Most of us hold this truth to be self-evident: Kids trick-or-treat, and adults don't. But at what point should a person transition from Receiver of Candy to Giver of Candy? While the question is somewhat subjective, our cursory research and informal polling suggests that 14 is the last appropriate age to put on the ol' mouse ears and knock on strange doors for candy.

How did we get that number? Let's start with science. In 2016, TODAY.com polled 2,000 readers, and 73 percent of those surveyed agreed that kids should stop trick-or-treating somewhere between the ages of 12 and 17. Some towns have even taken action to ensure that older kids don't participate. In the Canadian town of Bathurst, New Brunswick, the city council is close to passing rules that would prohibit tricksters over the age of 16 from participating in the candy-scavenging ritual, threatening fines up to $200. According to Newsweek, Bathurst's current 14-and-under trick-or-treating policy has been in place for 12 years, which has ruffled some feathers. ("What about kids who are tall for their age," some parents ask. "Are we going to ID them? That's crazy!")

Many cities have gone so far as to adopt a 12-year age limit, which seems to be a particularly extreme cut-off. In 2008, Bellevill, Ill. mayor Mark Eckert sought to ban high school-aged teens from trick-or-treating. "When I was a kid my father said to me, 'You're too damn big to be going trick-or-treating. You're done," Eckert said. "When that doesn't happen, then that's reason for the city governments to intervene." (It's worth mentioning that the fines assigned to violations of these rules are rarely implimented.)

A 2015 FiveThirtyEight study polled 1,026 people, and of the 921 of those people who said they celebrate Halloween, 57 percent of respondents picked an age between 12 and 15 as the age that kids should turn in their pillow cases and get out of the game. The most common age at which survey respondents said they stopped trick-or-treating was 12. 

Most people I spoke with for this story said they stopped around the beginning of high school, at either 13 or 14 years old. Abby Hocking, Food & Wine's photo editor, offered a good way to decide if you're too old. "One year my friend went when he was either 16 or 17, but he dressed like a mailman, so when he rang people's doorbell, they kept asking if they had to sign for a package," she said. "Once you get confused for the actual profession you're dressing up as, you're too old."

"I think once you get to driving age, there are better things to do on Halloween," added F&W editor Adam Campbell-Schmitt. "And once you can get a job at McDonald's, you can buy your own goddamn candy."