‘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.