Parental Advisory: How do you handle a Halloween candy campaign?
Welcome back to Parental Advisory, where I answer all of your social media and IRL parenting etiquette questions. This week, let's talk about parents of kids with peanut allergies and their concern over Halloween candy.
Hi! I have a Halloween-related question. A neighbor and I are both members of a local community Facebook page, and a couple of weeks ago she started "campaigning" that everyone who is passing out candy this year not distribute candy with peanuts in it, because her daughter has a peanut allergy. Her kid’s condition isn’t life threatening, but even if it was…I’m not sure her allergy should make three neighborhoods’ worth of homes restrict what gets passed out for Halloween. This has never been a problem before, and no one else has made this request. A few people have volunteered not to pass out candy with peanuts, but other neighbors have told me in person that they don't think it's a fair request and are just planning to stay out of it.
My question is, do you think she's justified for asking everyone to accommodate her child, or is she crossing the line and making an unreasonable request? For what it's worth, I haven't commented on the Facebook post, and I'm still kind of confused about what happens when she and daughter go trick-or-treating since I doubt every single page member has seen her post. If someone tries to give her kid Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, I guess it's possible she'll make a big deal of it? Also, I have three kids of my own and one of them is lactose intolerant, but it's never occurred to me to ask everyone not to pass out chocolate on Halloween. Do I have to stop buying mini-Snickers (my son's favorite) because my neighbor asked everyone to?
Happy early Halloween, V.! What you're describing is an increasingly common predicament that parents of allergic kids have around Halloween. In fact, "according to a study released in 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies among children increased approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011." Whoa. That's scarier than a pack of 10-year-olds dressed up as Donald Trump.
Regardless of the reasons kids are being diagnosed as having more (and stronger) allergies, what that means for everyone else is that in the past 20 years, things have been shifting. Peanuts are not allowed at most schools, airlines have been criticized for continuing to distribute free packs of nuts (I ate some on a Delta flight last week), and the national conversation around EpiPens has sparked some lively debate and a massive lawsuit.
Whenever I receive a new STFU, Parents submission about something peanut allergy-related, it's usually a parent losing their shit because someone is "contaminating" a public space (like a movie theater or a park) with peanut dust and "putting children at risk."
To be sure, peanut allergies are very real, and for the small percentage of people who can go into anaphylactic shock and/or die, that's a frightening proposition. More frightening than the Halloween after Frozen came out when parents were frantically searching for $300 Elsa costumes on eBay, even. And yet, I think there's something to be said for the way people are perceived by parents of allergic kids, as though they're purchasing candy with peanuts to thin out the neighborhood herd by sending children to the hospital. Unless your neighbor is a true bogeyman who relishes in poisoning kids, that's highly unlikely to be the case.
The reality is, most people distribute candy based on a number of guiding principles beginning with "deliciousness" and ending in "price." If I see a large bag of mini Snickers at the grocery store, I'm apt to buy it because I like Snickers bars, and I want to give kids treats that I think they'll enjoy.
There is no sinister ulterior motive — just an appreciation for giving candy treats to excited neighborhood children. To a parent of a kid with an allergy, I might look like a monster, but as far as I'm concerned, it's not my job to determine which neighboring children have allergies, just as it's not my place to remind kids that sugar is the devil. On Halloween night, I want the focus to be on fun — not on a family's strict veganism or poor child labor laws or the distress of peanut dust.
I can't cater to one parent's rules because it could lead to more modifications for other parents in the future, and that sounds more complicated than I (or most people) care to entertain. Some kids have diabetes or are allergic to wheat or eggs, and accommodating for each of them on an individual basis doesn't seem like the most practical solution. If the dietary preferences for all parents and kids were factored in, candy would be limited to lollipops and breath mints and/or get replaced with bags of organic lettuce.
Typically enough, right after I posted a recent column about uptight parents on Halloween, someone on Twitter sent me a message about how kids can die, and therefore I must be heartless and not care. I responded that "kids are going to come into contact with peanuts forever. Halloween isn't and shouldn't be about banning peanuts," and a few minutes later, a mom sent me this reply:
This is actually a response I hear frequently. Many parents don't want anyone to cater to their children's food restrictions, because they want their child(ren) to learn how to avoid the agents that cause an allergic reaction. It's more effective for a parent to teach their child to read labels and not to eat anything with peanuts — or to wait to eat candy on Halloween until after their bag has been sorted — than to ask everyone else to alter their candy purchases, especially if it's to accommodate one child with a known allergy.
People shouldn't feel a sense of shame for handing out Butterfinger bars; rather, parents should parent their children and do what works best for them. If that means not accepting candy with peanuts or putting that candy in a separate bag, so be it, but Halloween isn't necessarily the time to educate everyone on peanut allergies and how they can impact a child's enjoyment of holiday snacks. Chocolate and peanuts go together like ghosts and goblins, and a lot of the best treats on Halloween involve that tasty (but occasionally lethal) combination. Besides, if kids aren't careful, they could wind up with a mouthful of something far worse: vegetables.
With that being said — and my pro-peanut Halloween candy stance made clear — I do think there are some good alternative solutions to this ever-growing problem.
1. Parents can have two bowls of candy — one with peanut candy and one without — for children (or their parents) to choose from.
2. Parents can eliminate giving out candy altogether (occasionally crushing children's hopes and dreams) and participate in the Teal Pumpkin Project, which was launched a few years back by Food Allergy Research Association. The project aims to distribute teal-painted pumpkins (or encourage parents to make their own), which when placed outside a home's front door on Halloween, symbolize a home that isn't giving out food as treats. Parents are encouraged to give out glow sticks, small toys, pencils and erasers, toothbrushes or other items kids can use and/or collect.
3. Parents of kids with allergies can distribute "allergy-friendly" candy to parents in the neighborhood in advance and request — not demand — that they give that brand of candy to their kids when they come by on Halloween.
4. Parents of kids with allergies can hold their own Halloween party (ideally with a haunted house component; don't disappoint me, parents) and distribute whatever snacks and treats work for their family (and neighboring children).
5. Parents can refrain from handing out candy with peanuts and skip the parental drama altogether since that is very possibly the direction society is moving in and just accept that a Halloween without peanuts is still a fun Halloween — especially if they buy a big bag of candy with peanuts for themselves and their kids to enjoy in the privacy and "safety" of their own home.
Whatever people decide to do about candy distribution this Halloween, I hope parents of allergy-afflicted kids are able to keep their judgment and skepticism of their neighbors to a cauldron's simmer. And please, don't drive your kids from house to house if they have functioning mummy and Pokémon legs to walk on. Peanuts or not, they're gonna have to come down from their sugar highs sometime, and running around scaring their friends is their best bet.
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