Sorting out Halloween hazards

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween used to be such a simple occasion. Kids dressed up in their favorite costumes and embarked on a night of trick-or-treating. They then spent the rest of the night gorging on sugar-filled candy.

It wasn't really a "holiday" because no one got off work or school. It was just a fun event.

That, of course, has changed. Adults have gotten into the act of "dressing up" and Halloween parties are common. The "event" is treated more and more like another holiday.

Most importantly for youngsters, neighbors don't know each other as well as they once did and there are threats that worry parents from tainted candy to sex offenders preying on their young ones.

But those threats are mostly myth, even though local television stations and some newspapers across the nation will undoubtedly televise stories about sex offenders and Halloween and will place maps of where registered sex offenders live so that children can avoid them.

Let's be clear: Parents and guardians should be vigilant as their children go about trick-and-treating. But there's a difference between vigilant and paranoid.

Studies show that children are in much more danger of being struck by a car or being injured during some juvenile mischief.

To some degree, the issue is with sex offender laws that do not differentiate between violent sex offenders and non-violent ones. No one is against violent, predatory child molesters being punished and registered.

While the issues with sex offenders at Halloween are relatively new, frightening parents at Halloween is an age-old tradition. Researchers have examined what has been called Halloween Sadism, such as the "razor in the apple" story. The study, conducted at California State University, concluded that most such stories are greatly exaggerated and border on urban legend.

We live in a more complicated time and there are plenty of reasons for parents and guardians to be aware of their children's safety. Any parent who does not follow little ones on their Halloween trick-or-treat trek is negligent. We'd also encourage trick-or-treaters to respect those who would rather not be bothered. If the porch light isn't on, don't knock on that door.

It's important to put threats into perspective and not be frightened by a media stampede designed to scare parents and increase ratings.