Each Halloween, parents and teens struggle to answer a seemingly simple question: how old is too old to trick or treat? Here are some facts to help decide.

By Tracy Guth Spangler
Betsie Van Der Meer/Getty Images

If you’ve ever opened your door to almost-adult candy seekers you’re not sure are even wearing costumes, you might wonder…exactly how old is too old to trick-or-treat?

What Is the Average Age to Stop Trick or Treating?

At what age should kids stop trick-or-treating? The answer is anything but clear. A 2017 Today Parents survey of about 2,000 respondents found that most thought kids should stop going door-to-door at age 12 or 13. Almost three quarters said that by age 17, trick-or-treaters should hang up their costumes and leave the holiday festivities to the littler kids.

Is It Against the Law to Trick or Treat Over Age 12?

Some towns across the country think limits are in order, as well. While they are difficult to enforce, there are ordinances on the books in some municipalities that limit trick-or-treating to younger kids.

Last year, citing concerns about older kids stealing loot from younger ones and general fears of mischief, the Canadian town of Bathhurst, New Brunswick, proposed a local law forbidding kids 16 or older from trick-or-treating (with a fine of $200), and ending the festivities completely by 8 p.m. (The new guidelines would actually be more flexible than previous ones, which limited going door-to-door to kids 14 and younger, and asked them to be done by 7 p.m.; some parents felt this earlier curfew didn’t give them enough time to get home from work and take their children out to celebrate.)

The town of Apex, North Carolina, has had an ordinance on its books since 1973 prohibiting anyone older than 12 from trick-or-treating, and only until 9 p.m. Belleville, Illinois, enacted a rule in 2008, similarly capping the trick-or-treating age at 12. Other towns, in states from Virginia to Mississippi, have set up similar restrictions.

What’s the concern about older kids taking part in the time-honored candy tradition? Fear of bullying or vandalism may come into play. Local officials point to safety as a primary reason for the rules and acknowledge that they are hard to enforce. But they say putting the word out before the holiday keeps most of the older crowd in check.

It’s up to local municipalities to decide whether they want to put limits or curfews on Halloween. The National League of Cities doesn’t keep track of which towns have ordinances, so it’s hard to know just how broad the trend of officially limiting trick-or-treating age is.

And the issue of enforceability is a big one, acknowledges Sheena Collum, village president of South Orange, New Jersey. “With items such as alcohol or cigarettes, it’s relatively easy to enforce,” she says. “With respect to this idea, I’d find it difficult to enforce, difficult to identify the penalty for the infraction that fits the ‘crime,’ onerous for law enforcement, and last, I don’t think it would sit well with our community.”

None of the parents RealSimple.com talked to saw any reason for a legal limit on trick-or-treating age. “Curfews and age limits are really overreaching,” says Emily Hynes of Wayne, Pennsylvania. “Each community has its own personality and tends to self-regulate. And you can’t control rudeness or mischief with a curfew.”

Says Allison Foltz Millmoe of Oakland, California, “My gut instinct is to say stop at 13, but then again, I would much rather teens be trick-or-treating than getting into trouble on Halloween. And older sibs escorting younger kids is great.”

The Final Verdict

The best guideline might just be the general mood in your town. If community festivities are geared toward little kids, perhaps encourage older ones to watch a scary movie with friends, or host a casual party at your home for your kid’s squad (or a family or neighborhood party for all ages to enjoy).

Or, just embrace the idea that teens aren’t too “old” to enjoy the innocent fun of collecting candy. “I like it when they get dressed up with friends and go,” says Lisa Marinelli Smith of Gulf Breeze, Florida, the mother of two teenage boys. “It's about being with friends and having fun. Teens enjoy being creative with their costumes, too, I've found. I don't see the pillowcase-carrying teens dumping bowls of candy into them.”

One caveat: If older kids do trick-or-treat, remind them that their late-evening behavior needs to be appropriate. “This year we had turned out our lights and were trying to relax when a kid banged on the door at 9:30 and yelled, ‘I see you sitting in there!’ ’’ says Veda Truesdale of South Orange. “My response was not very nice!”