No child has ever been killed by poisoned Halloween candy

‘Stranger Danger’ and the Decline of Halloween

Even when I was a kid, back in the “Bewitched” and “Brady Bunch” costume era, parents were already worried about neighbors poisoning candy. Sure, the folks down the street might smile and wave the rest of the year, but apparently they were just biding their time before stuffing us silly with strychnine-laced Smarties.

That was a wacky idea, but we bought it. We still buy it, even though Joel Best, a sociologist at the University of Delaware, has researched the topic and spends every October telling the press that there has never been a single case of any child being killed by a stranger’s Halloween candy. (Oh, yes, he concedes, there was once a Texas boy poisoned by a Pixie Stix. But his dad did it for the insurance money. He was executed.)

As a parent, I’m torn between wanting my kids to be able to do the things I did as a kid (like ride a bike without a helmet) and wanting to keep my kids as safe as possible (like making them wear a helmet when they ride a bike.) When it comes to the bike helmet, I happen to think it’s probably worth wearing one, even though I never seriously hurt my head while riding a bike and don’t think I know anyone else who did, either. Some of the other nanny-ist ideas, though, seem a bit much. Many of them. Most, maybe.

Many stand to make money when people are alarmed. Or when they can turn tragedy into a payday, even if the tragedy is their own son’s death. So the pressure will always be to increase the nanny-ism, and those that disagree will be painted as people who wish for kids to get hurt.

There is a line in there somewhere when it comes to kids’ safety, and it will be in different places for different people. But the public perception of that line’s location seems off by quite a bit as far as Murdoc can tell. A lot of it has to do with round-the-clock news coverage and instant updates helping create an illusion of constant danger lurking around every corner.

Via Instapundit.


  1. The reporting bias is 99% of the problem, as all stats show crime rates against children to be in decline since a couple decades ago.

    I think the current generation of parents has done their children a massive disservice by never letting them interact with other children without supervision (examples abound in your linked article). In fact, I’d lay the whole post-college rebound to Mom & Dad’s place syndrome on the failure of Mom & Dad to let Junior be independent in the first place.

    I grew up in the early ’70s on a dead-end street in small-town Vermont. During summer vacation my mother all but kicked me out the door after breakfast and told me not to come back until I heard the whistle (London bobby’s whistle, very distinctive). Once I reached bike age my parents had absolutely no idea where I was when I left the house and simply expected me to arrive back home at the designated time and trusted me to keep an eye on my watch and do so. The value of the trust they placed in me was more than sufficient to ensure that I arrived home on schedule. To shock modern parents there were times in those days when I was 10 or more miles away from home for most of the day and I was by myself. Still here.

    If I were to do the same today the least I would hear would be other parents mumbling about my lack of parenting skills. I try to treat my daughter as my parents treated me but it’s damned hard to do so in a climate that is so aimed at “never lose sight of your children”.

    Don’t get me started on the “sterilize everything” craze and the “mysterious” rise of asthma and allergies.

    1. I grew up in the same time frame that you did…and i agree with everything you said; especially the part about being “bike age”. I just called my teenage daughter, who I have raised by the same standards that I was raised, in here to read your posting. She has many friends but refuses to hang out with them after school hours and on weekends, what is wrong with the kids these days, I love my kids, but they are so dependent on me to be their friend. It is like pulling teeth to get them to hang out…mostly we have to invite her friends to our family outings to get them to hang out, then it seems that what we do as a family is “lame” to her friends so our daughter pretends not to have fun which inevitably ruins the trip for my wife and I!

  2. I led a similar childhood Captain Ned’ except the timeframe was 20-years earlier. (early 1950’s). In the summer I was sent out early (much to my joy) and explored a small North-New Jersey town all day. I was expected home at 5:30 PM for a dinner of franks and beans or spaghetti. At 6 PM it was off again until the town’s fire-horn blew once (nightly test) at 8 PM. I was given a 15-minute “peddle-home” leway.

    My friends and I never heard of helmets, except for the authentic German WW-II helmet one kid got from his dad who was in Europe. My best friend’s bike was a Rudge and mine a Raleigh (both were made by Raleigh, an english company).

    Yea, we occasionally fell off and got scrapes and bruises, but that was part of the game. Climbing trees, playing on the local train tracks and baseball on a vacant lot and poison ivy were not only excepted but were expected as part and parcel of life for both the kids and parents. NOTE: I typed parents. Single parents were unknown in the 50’s.

    1. Even in the early 80s (Murdoc’s older childhood) I would get up in the morning and sometimes not actually see my parents until dinner time. I grew up on the farm and was all over the place during the day. My mom lived on the edge of a small city and I would bike into town and spend all day at the arcade, theater, book store, and game store before biking back home for dinner.

      I tell my wife about it and show her on the maps where I biked and she thinks it was insane. I didn’t think much of it at the time and believe that I’m probably better off for it.

  3. “The real problem is that the rent is too damn high.”

    Solution Kevin,

    Ask your local municipal council for a rent subsidy.

    If they refuse tell them you’re going to complain to Pradident Obama.

    That’ll scare the poop out of them!

  4. Some of this stuff goes way too far, IMO. I carried a pocket knife to school every day starting in third grade (around 1973), and did that all the way through high school.

    I just saw that a couple local high school seniors got kicked of the soccer team and suspended from school for 2 weeks for having a multi-tool in their gym bags!

    Hell, plenty of times, I took a deer rifle or a shot gun along with me to high school! Once you hit 16 and were able to drive, and if you maintained “good student standing”, you were allowed to bring in a gun if you were going hunting after school. And to top it off, you had to walk it straight in to the principal’s office! Its hard to imagine what would happen if a teenager walked into the principal’s office with a long gun today.

    I usually carried in an old Marlin lever action 30-30 during deer season. But my father won a raffle for a tricked out Winchester Model 70 .25-06 with a custom stock and a huge adjustable scope, and he let me use that. When I showed up at the principal’s office with that gun, the principle said, “Wow, did your Dad get a raise?”

    Ahh, the good ole days….

  5. Halloween candy these days looks poisonous enough as it is.

    I do recall a razorblade-in-the-candy scare from the 80s though.

    1. Halloween candy these days looks poisonous enough as it is.


      I do recall the razor blade thing, also. In fact, I think of that before I think of poison. When I was a younger kid lots of people handed out apples and popcorn and homemade treats. By the time I was older and done trick-or-treating the push was on for packaged goodies only.

      I’ve always wondered about that razor blade thing. Seems pretty convenient for the packaged candy makers.

      1. as I recall it, it was a few ‘bad apples’ in the candy factories* where the blades originated. I guess it could have been an accident.

        candy+factory==wrong! :(

        yeah I haven’t seen fresh hot caramelized apples for a really long time.

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