How Scared Should I Be of Teens on Halloween?
On Halloween, teens own the streets. But are they scary?
Photo via Wikimedia Commons user Dezidor
Note: In the column "How Scared Should I Be?" VICE staff writer and generalized anxiety disorder sufferer Mike Pearl seeks to quantify the scariness of everything under the sun. We hope it'll help you to more wisely allocate that most precious of natural resources: your fear.
A grocery store in Pennsylvania has had enough with what it calls "safety concerns" associated with letting minors buy eggs around Halloween, so all through Halloween week, you have to be 18 to buy them, and the store is carding people. It's not much of a hindrance—teens can, and probably will, just go to a different store, buy some eggs, and then egg that first store—but is it a sign that the usual teenage bullshit on Halloween has gotten out of hand?
Long ago when I was a fun size trick-or-treater, teenagers in store-bought wolfman masks and Freddy Krueger gloves scared the shit out of me. Later, when I became a feeble, anxious teen myself, my fellow teens, with their store-bought Matrix costumes—some of which were sexy—scared me for other reasons. But as an adult, even though Halloween is the night teens own the streets, they generally haven't scared me in the least.
I've recently wondered if I should revise that policy. Media coverage of teenage Halloween pranks makes them seem like they've turned into actual monsters. Could that be true?
For instance, last week, a teen showed up at the movie theater closest to my parents' house, barged into a showing of the movie The Gift, and tricked the audience into thinking he was a chainsaw-wielding maniac (It turned out he was armed with a leaf blower). It shows a good creative mind for pranks. But we now live in an America where movie theaters are frequently targeted by murderous psychopaths, so the fear was amplified. Three people were hurt in the ensuing stampede. One even broke a toe. That particular teen was a shithead, and I'm glad he was arrested and charged with three crimes.
After digging around in news archives, I can only conclude that even though some Halloween teen antics are unsettling, nothing has changed, not even a little bit. It should come as a surprise to no one that teens have been arrested over harmless pranks since time immemorial. All the way back in 1928, teens in California were hauled before a judge because they went out on Halloween and threw eggs, tomatoes, and oranges at cars. In 1947, some teens in New York broke into their own school. New York Teens in 1954 pulled some fire alarms. Who cares?
But teens have also been taking shit way too far since time immemorial.
All the way back in 1901, a pack of youths in New York City busted out the most deceptively unfunny Halloween prank in the prank book: stretching a string across a walkway, and getting someone to trip over it. They cracked the skull of a local politician, who had to be hospitalized with life-threatening injuries. That same night, some other kids were smacking passersby with bags of flour—which they were finding hilarious I guess?—and they hit a little girl so hard she bled internally, and later died.
But apart from mere violence, teens have also been perpetrating their unique brand of psychological terror on Halloween for decades. In 1969, some teens in Philadelphia pranked a neighbor by telling the cops he had been placing razor blades in apples, when he was actually just a harmless old loner. That same year, teens in Virginia chopped down some trees on Halloween—far from the scariest thing you can do with an ax—but the prank blocked all the roads in the area, and left the residents stranded. In 1984, teens in Idaho stole some street signs, which, who cares, right? But these were stop signs, and the resulting car crash injured six people.
In Australia in 2012, a mainstay of Halloween fun—an egging—resulted in a serious injury. A seemingly one-in-a-million shot with an egg caught a younger kid in the eye, causing the kid to need medical attention. According to ABC News, eggs caused at least 13 serious eye injuries in a one-year period in the UK alone. But everyone knows eggs are for the front doors of houses that aren't giving out candy, not faces. If you go out for Halloween with a few dozen eggs, and the only place you can think to throw them is directly at people, you're a shitty pranker.
But further reading reveals another long-term trend: violent overreaction from the prankee.
In 1949, some teens in Lawrence, Kansas were going around tipping people's outhouses over on Halloween. They tried it on the wrong guy, apparently, and he got into a brawl with them, eventually shooting one in the leg. In another Kansas incident exactly ten years later, a 16-year-old honor student was pushing benches into a ditch on Halloween when an armed nightwatchman chased after him with a gun. The nightwatchman fired—he claimed that he had stepped in a hole, which caused his gun to discharge accidentally—putting a bullet in the teen's head, and killing him.
The fact is that when teens get into trouble late at night and it goes wrong, the victims tend to be the teens themselves. That can be their own doing, like In 1990, when a South Carolina teen, taking his haunted house routine too far, fatally hanged himself. Or it can be the result of overreactions, like last year when a guy in Arkansas overreacted to an egging, and fired a gun into a car full of teens, killing one of them.
Here in LA, where I live, Halloween is a lot of things. Right after dusk a lot of children go around the more walkable neighborhoods collecting candy. Once the coast is clear, it becomes a night when teens—and adults like me in a semipermanent state of arrested development—put on disguises, and run around literally mocking death.
That's all the more unsettling, because statistically speaking, minors, including teens, are in almost twice as much danger of dying on Halloween as they are on any other night. "Teenagers" and "pranks" don't show up on breakdown of parental fears on Halloween, but according to a survey by the nonprofit organization Safe Kids Worldwide, 31 percent of parents understandably fear "pedestrian injury."
"Historically, we have seen an increase in injuries from car versus pedestrian accidents, and often injuries and incidents due to increased use of alcohol," Peter Sanders, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department told me.
One thing that's really worth being afraid of on Halloween is the kind of hit-and-run that instantly killed three teens last year. No one was able to prove that driver was drunk, but on one Halloween night studied by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, almost half of the fatalities in traffic incidents nationwide involved a drunk driver, as opposed to the usual one third.
In short, it's the teens who should watch out on Halloween, particularly when they're crossing the street. Meanwhile, I'll be fine.
Any decent party comes with some official safety warnings from The Powers that Be, because real fun is dangerous. Teens will be around on Halloween, armed with toilet paper and eggs, until they get bored and try to get a hand job in the backseat of a Scion. Toilet paper is flammable, and eggs can hurt your eyes, but if that actually scares you, or makes you want to open up your gun safe, you should probably just stay the fuck indoors on Halloween.
Final Verdict: How Scared Should I Be of Teens on Halloween?
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- young people
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- drunk drivers
- toilet papering
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