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Q. "My son who is 11 wants to trick-or-treat alone with his friends this year. Normally he goes along with his sister and me. I understand he's growing up. But, still, I worry about him being out after dark on a night when many kids play dangerous pranks. Should I let him go? And what guidelines should I set?"
A. The situation you're facing is one of the most common parents face today. A generation ago parents wouldn't think twice about sending a child out into the neighborhood on Halloween to trick-or-treat. Children by age 10 are fully equipped for brief yet safe adventures away from their parents. They thrive on these opportunities as they satisfy their need for independence while challenging their developing abilities.
Today, because of violent acts against children, parents fear danger lurking around every neighborhood corner. What's a parent to do? While no parent will simply let a child out the door with no guidance or supervision, it's probably not in the child's best interest for you to be overly protective either.
Find the middle ground by laying a safety net for your son and his friends. The most obvious solution is for either you or your son's father to shadow the boys by walking half a block behind them as they trick-or-treat. This way you're within ear-and-eye shot, so if pranks or other dangerous situations arise on that spooky walk around the neighborhood, you're in the vicinity.
Also, ask them before they venture out, what rules they're going to follow to keep themselves safe. By engaging them in the process of keeping themselves safe, you increase the likelihood they'll follow through and learn about personal safety at the same time. They'll probably mention the importance of carrying flashlights, going only to houses where the porch light is on, and not eating candy until they're home.
If your son balks at the thought of you or Dad shadowing the group, then offer a choice. "You can either go with me following behind, or with me and your sister." If he continues to resist the idea of you following along behind, talk to the other parents. He might feel silly if he thinks his parents are the only protective ones. If there's a consensus from all the parents, then he won't feel like the baby in the group.
If you live in a neighborhood where there's lots of traffic, you may not be able to let the boys go without you right by their side. If this is the case, move the group around the neighborhood but have little sister go with the other parent. To an 11-year-old, little sister is an annoyance particularly when friends are around.
This situation marks a new parenting beginning for you. Puberty looms on the horizon; the push for independence is just starting to rear its challenging head. You'll be continuously challenged as you decide when to say no, when to say yes, and how to offer guidance and choices for safety's sake.
Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of four parenting books, including Darn Good Advice -- Baby and Darn Good Advice -- Parenting. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for this site and a weekly parenting advice column in the Seattle Times. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.