Saturday, October 1, 2011

Halloween Safety (or Paranoia)

Earlier this week I received a couple of flyers in my work e-mail about Halloween safety. Every year about this time the Safety Office puts out information about trick-or-treating on base. This year we got two flyers: one from the Safety Office and the other from the Teen Center. The Safety Office flyer was a Word document with information about trick-or-treating hours and standard safety tips. The Teen Center flyer was a cute Power Point presentation with safety tips mixed in with cartoon ghosts, witches, and goblins.

Most of the information in both flyers was common sense. For example, it says that kids should be visible and carry a flashlight or glow stick and they should wear costumes that fit properly. Cars aren't allowed in the on-base housing area during trick-or-treat hours. However, if kids wearing dark costumes wander to other areas on the base, it's a good thing for drivers to be able to see them. It also takes a lot of the fun out of trick-or-treating when you're constantly tripping over your costume.

However, there were a few things in the flyers that I found a bit odd. Maybe I've been spending too much time on the Free Range Kids blog (, but these particular tips seemed to play into American parents' fears of kidnappers and possible dangers. The first one was to have parents inspect the candy and other "loot" when the kids get home. My son does this anyway to separate the "good" candy from the "lame." I watch him, mainly to see if there is a lot of chocolate candy. It works out well because he's a Gummi Bear man and I like chocolate. The premise behind this is all of the media stories about strangers poisoning Halloween candy and then giving it out. Every year there seem to be stories about apples with razor blades or poisoned candy. I remember them from my childhood. To further feed this fear, Stateside hospitals will x-ray Halloween candy for free to reasssure anxious parents. According to Snopes, there have been very few cases where kids were poisoned on Halloween. Those cases were not random poisonings by strangers, but premeditated acts by someone the children knew. Yet the fear persists that every other person that a child visits on Halloween night will put poison, razor blades, or needles in the candy.

One of the items on the flyer from the Safety Office said that kids shouldn't carry sharp objects like knives, swords, or brooms while trick-or-treating. Brooms??? I can see why a six-year-old knight shouldn't carry a real sword  and understand why it's best that a young Ninja warrior leaves Mom's French chef knife at home. But when did a broom get designated a "sharp object?" Most girls who dress up as witches would "ride" their brooms, but I can see boys engaging in horseplay and doing swordfights with brooms or pretending that they're machine guns. They may even whack a friend with either the handle or bristles. But come to think of it, I just can't imagine why a boy would want to carry a broom on Halloween. I don't know too many boys who want to dress up as janitors or members of the Norwegian curling team. While I have heard of many deaths by swords or knives (I've read enough medieval history in my time), I haven't read anything about real deaths by brooms. There are urban legends about teenage girls who supposedly died while masturbating with a broom handle, but they are just that.

As I mentioned before, the Power Point presentation was very cute. But there was one slide that played to the US obsession and paranoia about children being kidnapped by strangers. That slide said that kids shouldn't trick or treat alone. Young kids should be accompanied by an adult and older kids should go with at least one buddy. To me, that's plain common sense because there is safety in numbers. There was a little box that appeared on that slide which said that kids who are in a group have a reduced risk of being kidnapped. It was implied that any child out alone would be kidnapped. Believe it or not, there are not predators and kidnappers on every corner and hiding in every bush. Halloween would be one of the worst times to snatch a child because there are so many people around. It's one of the few times (at least in the States) that there are a lot of people out on the streets. Out of all of the child abductions in the States, an extremely small percentage are committed by strangers. The rest are committed by someone who the child knows and trusts.

Even if I wanted to snatch a child on Halloween, it would be an extremely difficult endeavor. First of all, the on-base housing area, where all of the trick or treating takes place (it hasn't spread to the local German community yet), is self-contained and very small. All of the residents know each other. They also know many families who live off-base. The kids also know each other plus the American kids who live off-base. If I were to make off with a kid, first of all, someone would stop me and ask what I'm doing with Major Smith's son. On Halloween night, there are a lot of people in the housing area walking about, giving out candy from their cars, or hanging around talking with other adults. Local Germans are also invited to come on base to trick or treat. In other words, there are a lot of potential witnesses. If I were planning to commit a crime I certainly don't want witnesses. Then there's the matter of exiting the housing area with a screaming, kicking child. The military police are at the housing area entrance/exit to give the kids glow sticks and candy, prevent people from driving into the housing area (it's closed to cars during trick or treat hours), and ensure that everything is orderly. The MPs would certainly notice something amiss if I were to try and leave the housing area with a kid who's making a big fuss. Even if a child was trick or treating alone in the on-base housing area, he stands a higher chance of being abducted by space aliens than by a flesh and blood stranger.

I'm all for kids having a safe and fun Halloween experience. Like in previous years, either my husband or me will drive my son and some of his friends to the base. While the boys score as many treats as they can, whoever brings the kids will talk with the other adults and maybe have a cup of Gluehwein (hot spiced red wine). When we get home, we'll check out the number of Gummi Bear packets and chocolates. But we definitely won't be paranoid about poisoned candy, broom-related deaths, or kidnappers.

1 comment:

  1. Halloween as we knew it as kids has all but vanished here. Sad. I used to love making my own costumes and gorging myself into a sugar coma after doing the spooky rounds on that special evening.

    We can only blame the fear factor, the paranoia that has gripped our world. As if terrorist attacks aren't enough, we feel we must keep our kids from any of the fun activities we enjoyed in our own youth. Or at least analyze everything to death and overprotect and over-control everything the kids are involved in.

    I wonder just how many more years Halloween will even be "celebrated"... maybe by then, it'll only mean watching It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown on TV, then eating some candies. Yay....