Clint Patterson
Photo credit: Clint Patterson

Halloween Is Breeding Anxiety for Kids and Teens Socially

During Covid, there has been a rise in teen anxiety. Since March teens report being physically isolated from their friends. Even with hybrid models of education teens can still feel the isolation. In my practice, teens complain to me that even though they are attending in-school socially distanced classes, often it is at different shifts than with their closest friends. Those that have the fortune to be with their friends, still object to lunch, recess, and in-school socializing being significantly restricted.

As if these stressors aren’t enough, now they must contend with the added fear of Halloween coming because of the socialization challenges that typically surface on this holiday. That isn’t anything new, it’s just magnified with all else that they are confronting. In this stressful climate, and with more teens struggling with mental health, we really need to pay attention to how we, as parents contribute, as well as how we can support our kids effectively through it.

Adolescents and Teens Express Anxiety Over Halloween

When working with adolescents and teens, I become flooded with expressions of worry and fear as Halloween draws closer. What makes this holiday distinct is that it is the only holiday where socializing with peers, as opposed to family, is so formative. It makes for some complicated social dynamics among peers. There is an investment by kids, parents, and vendors in keeping this holiday important, prevalent, and opportunistic. Costumes and accessories are trendy. The more creative and unique the costumes are the more notoriety for the friend group.

Another parent gave an example of a situation she found herself in which left her feeling leery of participating in the festivities in the future. She recalled when her son was in middle school, a kid was having a party, and the parent of that child put a cap on the number of kids that could attend the party. Ostensibly, many kids were not invited to it.

Feeling bad that kids were left out, the parent decided to throw a party as well and decided to open it up to the whole class. Following this, she received calls and e-mails from many parents blaming her for putting kids in the uncomfortable position of having to decide which party to attend. She said she was aghast at the response, as she expected that her gesture would be appreciated for being inclusive of all kids.

Several teens expressed distress over the type of costume to wear. One teen expressed, “It’s usually about, the sexier the costume the better. Not everyone can get away with wearing these.” Another teen remarked, “Everyone could wear whatever they want, I can’t, but I do anyway. I don’t want to stick out and explain why I’m not going along.”

Some teens highlighted the role of parents in inciting the frenzy. One teen expressed, “My mom brings up the groups, even before my friends do. She always wants to make sure I am included. She’s way too intense.” Other teens commented on their parents, and primarily their mothers, reacting anxiously to the group formation, the type and quality of costumes, and coordinating the parties and events for the evening.

Parents and teens report to me that Halloween tends to be celebrated in groups during middle school and high school. By the middle to end of high school, teens tend to return to doing individual costumes. Some kids trick-or-treat, but most tend to “chill” at someone’s house. They especially like the shaving cream activities included in the festivities. Because of the pandemic, some are choosing or are being forced to amend or curtail these activities.

Some kids are left out of the groups where they collectively dress up, others are excluded from the Halloween parties, while some are left out of both. For those “in” groups, there tends to be a group theme, or the group opts to all wear the identical costume. There tend to be intense negotiations regarding the group theme or which costume to wear. Sometimes, the negotiations turn into fierce disagreements which can lead group members to splinter off to form a smaller group, with a different theme or costume.

Distress About Being Excluded, the Style of Costume, and Parents’ Participation

Parents and kids report concerns about kids being excluded, the type of costume that gets selected, and parents’ participation which sometimes incites or intensifies the conflict. One parent explained that “There are usually many texts going back and forth, and typically the queen bee(s) wins out on picking the theme and costumes. You could really get a sense of the power and control in the group.” Another parent explained, “I start asking about it really early in the school year to ensure that my daughter doesn’t get left out.”

It is apparent from speaking to teens that the anxiety is expressed mostly by females. They noted feeling more pressure to look their best and secure their social status. Males were more concerned about being included in the groups and parties, rather than their selection of costumes. Most reported their costumes were inconsequential and many decided on what to wear the night before Halloween.

Undoubtedly, because of the stress around Covid and the current rise in mental health disorders, it is necessary for parents to have awareness about and support their children through Halloween. Here are 6 tips on how to offer support and guidance.

Tips for Parents to Support Their Children Through the Holiday

  1. Be more self-aware of your own anxieties regarding socialization so that it does not impinge on you interacting and supporting your child and you can be better able to recognize their challenges and needs,
  2. Rather than attempting to just “fix” the problem, present as in tune and attentive emotionally toward your child who is not invited to be part of a group or is excluded (i.e., actively listen and attune to their feelings, validate their feelings and concerns, etc.),
  3. Coordinate parties that are inclusive (e.g., partner up with other parents and have a joint party),
  4. Teach your children effective communication skills when and if conflict ensues (i.e., the art of negotiating, assertiveness vs. aggressiveness, etc.),
  5. Discuss body awareness and personal integrity regarding costumes, and
  6. Consider how to celebrate the holiday so it can have personal meaning and purposefulness (e.g., donate the candy to military and first responder heroes at Soldiers’ Angels or Operation Gratitude, suggest that they dress up in representation of a given advocacy cause or theme that is meaningful to them, etc.).

Although not fail-safe, you can directly help to minimize and support your children through the anxiety and drama that typically surrounds them during Halloween. Noticeably, because of the pandemic, they already have more than enough to contend with. Let’s not cancel Halloween but just make it more enjoyable for them.

For my guided meditation on Grounding Exercises to Ease Stress & Anxiety see below. Consider subscribing to my YouTube channel for further meditations.

Blog as posted in PsychologyToday.


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