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Scare Tactics

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Halloween still offers plenty of scares—and not just doughy women who really can’t pull off their trampy costumes. But we’re not scaring the kids so much anymore. It has become a day to frighten parents:

When courts or cops set up a free x-ray station for kids' candy, they send the message that we should really be worried about foreign objects in the loot.

We shouldn't. There are just a few scattered cases in the last half century of pins or needles being found in Halloween treats. The vast majority turned out to be pranks or hoaxes, and none led to more than minor injuries; your children are more likely to drown in a bucket than to be hurt by a blade in an apple or a candy bar. And for all the yarns you've heard about neighborhood supervillains plotting to put poison in their candy, there isn't a single recorded case of it happening. The closest anyone has found is a crime in 1974 when a boy's Pixy Stix was doused with cyanide. But the culprit turned out to be his own dad.

Yet no matter how many times people have tried to kill those scare stories, the tales keep shambling forward.

I grew up with the lore of razor blades in apples. Happily, my parents were not afflicted with the paranoia we see today and I was able to gather sacks full of treats.

But the imaginary threats have outgrown past pins and poisons:

In the last few years those traditional tales of poisoned apples have been joined by a different fear: that trick-or-treaters will be assaulted by pedophiles. It's an unlikely scenario, since trick-or-treaters rarely travel alone and are not ordinarily invited into strangers' houses. And sure enough, when a 2009 study in Sex Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment looked at when nonfamilial sex crimes against children take place, the authors concluded that "no increased rate on or just before Halloween was found, and Halloween incidents did not evidence unusual case characteristics." The researchers then questioned "the wisdom of diverting law enforcement resources to attend to a problem that does not appear to exist."

Fear is a feeling. The classic scary stories of Halloween planted seeds in the imaginations of children. The trick is give the mind something to run with, to build the fright beyond any reasonable justification. It’s kind of like torture waterboarding, where the subject is never in real danger.

Parents may have outgrown the fear of ghouls and goblins, but they still seem to want to be scared by something.

H/T: Maggie’s Farm


From a similar story found on Newmark’s Door:

Halloween is more than a massive candy-grab. Prompting kids try on grown-up personas and slip into the darkness to negotiate with total strangers, all under the watchful eyes of multitudes of parents, it involves the entire community in giving children their first chance to overcome some of the human race's innate fears -- darkness, strangers, and parental separation.

In short, Halloween is an important social ritual. When the nanny state takes that away in the name of safety, it can slow the development of the children in the community.