Where are the kids?

| Comments (11) | Misc
Another Halloween, another bowl full of candy, and another night when only a few kids show up. Tonight we had 3 groups of kids, each in the 5-7 range. It's not clear to me why Halloween in the Bay Area is so lame; when I was a kid and went out trick or treating the streets would be thick with other trick-or-treaters to the point where you actually had to wait in line at some houses. Here, though, the streets are empty and in a good year we'll see maybe 5 groups. One of my friends lives in San Francisco and says that in the 10 year he's been there he's never had anyone come by. I would understand it this were some crime-ridden area, but I actually live in suburban Palo Alto about 5 blocks from the local elementary school. It's a totally safe neighborhood with lots of kids living nearby. Moreover, this year Halloween is on a Saturday, so you'd think that it would be especially hot.

One theory—popular with the denizens of Fark—is that overprotective parents have ruined trick-or-treating. See, for instance, this article and the related Fark thread. However, this doesn't seem to be correct: no less authoritative a source than the National Confectioners Assoction reported in 2005 that 95% of children intended to go out. I would be interested in hearing reports from people in other parts of the country about their flow rates.

Another explanation is that it's a collective action problem: It's only worth trick-or-treating when enough houses dispense candy to make it worthwhile. [I've written about this before]. Similarly, it's only worth dispensing candy when enough kids come by: I was invited to several Halloween parties and stayed home to give out candy, but I'm not sure I would do that again. So, if you have a neighborhood which is in a no-trick-or-treating equilibrium, it's hard for it to take hold. I'm sure there's some effect here. For instance, Belvedere street in San Francisco has a huge party every year with the result that kids come by from across the city and residents put in huge amounts of effort decorating their houses. On the other hand, when I went out at 5:30 to pick up some more candy (ending up with way more than I needed), I had to stand in line at the register, so obviously people are giving out candy, and that means I don't have a good explanation.

11 Comments

I live in northern Westchester County, NY, also in a safe, suburban neighborhood, within walking distance of a couple of schools, a community center, a skateboard park, and a golf course. This is my 20th Hallowe'en here. Not one visitor has come. Ever. In 20 years.

My childhood experience, in southeastern Florida, is the same as yours. It's very different now.

My sense is that parents are taking their kids around (we went by ourselves, when I was a lad), and that they take them to houses where they know the occupants. So there's still plenty of T-or-T, and plenty of candy going around (though a lot of the candy that's bought does go into the office). They're just not coming chez moi.

I suppose I could make an point of meeting the parents in the area, setting myself up as a welcoming household, making sure I have lights on, and such (I have a 300-foot-long driveway, so they'd need to feel that it'd be worth the effort). But I figure it's just as well the way it is.

I've always liked Paul Stookey's characterization of trick-or-treat: "Armed children going around the neighborhood demanding protection money."

dunno, we were out with scads of trick-or-treaters here in West Seattle, and there were always bajillions in our neighborhood in Philly, too. To the point that last year I had a 5 gallon bucket of candy.

Here in Princeton NJ, we had only one kid trick-or-treat our house, and that was a friend's kid who made a special trip to see us. We live in a suburban neighborhood.

This is down from previous years. We did have some intermittent light rain this year. Also there was a fairly credible report last week of a creepy adult approaching kids in the neighborhood.

When I was a kid we would trick-or-treat in our own neighborhood. Now, kids seem to want to hit certain streets or neighborhoods, and the parents often take them there. Neighborhoods that have lots of kids and houses close together are popular. So it might be that the kids are more concentrated in certain areas.

Another factor could be that people are giving out bigger units of candy, and parents are more aware of the downsides of kids eating lots of candy, so parents limit the kids' trick-or-treating time.

Is your neighborhood teeming with kids at other times? When we moved to our neighborhood 10 years ago, we got very few trick-or-treaters on Halloween. But back then, there were only two houses on our street that had children of that age. In the 10 years since, the neighborhood has practically turned over and all but 4 houses on our street have children of that age. This year we ran out of candy within 2 hours. If your neighborhood isn't kid-active, that probably explains it.

I do think there is something of a collective action, too. We notice that there are kids driven to our neighborhood and dropped off. And it isn't just one or two cars, it happens all night long. On top of that, I think most houses in our neighborhood give out the good stuff. Some people even have baked goodies. I know some people that give out pretzels and sidewalk chalk, and they get very few visitors -- that kinda info gets broadcast over kidnet I guess.

My neighborhood parallels Eric's (safe, quiet, lots of kids, three blocks from the elementary school), and my experience was the same as well (gave candy to maybe five kids).

When I was a kid, we went out on our own and canvassed the local neighborhood. If the lights were on, you rang the bell. If off, you left it alone. Then my mom would eat my loot while I wasn't looking.

One other thing that's new, that wasn't the case back in the day, are all the other events surrounding Halloween. We took our daughter to a mid-afternoon kid party yesterday where they were all in costume. I'm guessing this sort of thing lowers the kids' desire to get out and canvass the neighborhood. My own daughter didn't want to go more than half a block from home, and that was with my wife holding her hand the whole time.

Did you see any changes that correlate with the DST move a few years ago? Now that Halloween is always in DST, it seems like we see fewer small children trick-or-treating in our neighborhood. OTOH, the older kids keep coming until well after we're ready to shut down.

I think it is a critical mass thing. In the "Real" suburbs like Portola Valley, the distance between houses in many neighborhoods tends to make the critical mass problem even worse. There is basically one "trick or treating block" in PV where all the houses go completely bat-shit nuts decorating themselves and giving out tons of candy, and everyone heads there, turning it into a sort of block-party. We also organized a little local group of ~10 5-10 year old kids on our street, with ~15 houses giving out candy on it -- we pre-organized it via email to let the candy givers know the kids'd be there and vice-versa and that seems to have stimulated supply on both sides this year.

Not 2 miles from you in Midtown Palo Alto it was a pretty constant mob of kids from 6:30 to 8:30.

We actually get pretty good turnout in Napa (stephanie ran out of the 50 piece bag she had), because one street over is one of those streets that goes all-out for halloween every year, with lots of people doing lots of stuff, so it ends up being a magnet for tricker treaters from all over napa.

Which lends some support for the collective action hypothesis.

Turns out, it's a candy ring.

In fact, it's a DHT-based candy ring. Our young'un was lucky, and most of the adjacent nodes for us were relatively nearby. There was one in Westchester, up some 300-foot-long driveway, but we chorded around that. Other than that, reasonable walking distances or driving distances.

I know it seems silly to use key-based routing for something like this, but it works out in the aggregate. Sure, in topology unaware applications like a modern Halloween, a few nodes are going to be skipped and a few are going to get slammed. It's the luck of the draw (er, hash). But overall the average kid is still getting average amounts of candy. Some kids are getting shafted and some houses slammed, but the system *overall* works.

And isn't that what's really important?

Turns out, it's a candy ring.

In fact, it's a DHT-based candy ring. Our young'un was lucky, and most of the adjacent nodes for us were relatively nearby. There was one in Westchester, up some 300-foot-long driveway, but we chorded around that. Other than that, reasonable walking distances or driving distances.

I know it seems silly to use key-based routing for something like this, but it works out in the aggregate. Sure, in topology unaware applications like a modern Halloween, a few nodes are going to be skipped and a few are going to get slammed. It's the luck of the draw (er, hash). But overall the average kid is still getting average amounts of candy. Some kids are getting shafted and some houses slammed, but the system *overall* works.

And isn't that what's really important?

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