Teen girl getting made up for Halloween, with pumpkins in the background.

The Power of Halloween for Teen Self Expression

The two things that are practically synonymous with Halloween are candy and costumes. While the younger age groups are equally focused on both of these facets, it’s the latter that generally captures teens’ mindsets as they choose their outfits and activities for the final day of October. This is their chance to try on a new identity, to act out the role of being someone different for one night. All month long, teens anticipate an evening when they can suspend reality and enter into a playful fantasy world. 

The thrill of Halloween for teens has a lot to do with the complete freedom for self-expression and the opportunity to engage socially while role playing as someone, or something, entirely different from the person they present every day. Stepping into a new character can feel liberating, and is a powerful way for teens to engage in testing the waters as they work to form their identities. But it can also introduce new social situations, peer pressure, and even risky behavior. Keep reading to learn more about how to help your teen explore their identity this spooky season in a safe and healthy way.


Teens are still figuring out who they are. Costumes can be empowering as they experiment with a fun outfit, hairstyle, makeup look, or even an entirely new identity for one night. It is a moment where teens are free to express themselves without judgment. As a result, it is important for the adults in teens’ lives to give them the space and resources they need to explore their identity in a safe way. Halloween provides a window of opportunity for parents and other allies of teens to support them with their costume choices and help steer them in the right direction when it comes to resisting peer pressure.

So when your teen is selecting their costume, have a conversation with them to understand why they are excited about dressing this way. Maybe they want to dress up as Einstein to explore what it would feel like to act the part of a genius for the night. Or maybe they want to dress as something scary to indulge in an inner rebellious spirit that might normally be tucked away. Understanding the process for building teen identity can be a great way to connect with your teen and help them find positive outlets to test out their curiosities about who they want to be during the other months of the year.

Social Development

An equally important part of Halloween for teens is the impressions they are making on their peers. It is an opportunity to show off a new look, gauge reactions, and feel proud of their self-expression. But sometimes, teens can feel peer pressured to look or act a certain way to fit in. They might feel pushed to try on an identity that they do not connect with or one that makes them uncomfortable. Teens often engage in group costumes with friends and the evening becomes more about fitting in than being themselves. Ideally Halloween should be about self-empowerment, learning about themselves, not fitting in to the expectations of others.

So, check in with your teen about how they are feeling about their plans for Halloween. If they are planning a look that does not seem true to them, do your best to connect with them and understand why. If your teen is excited about a group costume, ask them about ways they can make it feel more original and exciting for them. Have an open and honest conversation with them about why they want to dress this way. Was it their idea or are they feeling pressured into it? Are they comfortable with their choice? If your teen has a costume in mind that is insensitive or does not seem age appropriate, ask them to consider how their look might make them feel and also how others might feel about it. Ultimately, it is important to understand your teen’s motivations and encourage them to stay true to themselves and respectful of others.

New Behaviors

Along with the opportunity to try on a new identity, teens might also feel pressured, or the desire, to engage in new behaviors. The dark and spooky nature of Halloween can sometimes encourage risky behavior. This can look like inappropriate costumes, sexual experimentation, and consuming drugs and alcohol. The pressure teens might feel to dress a certain way might also make them feel the need to act a certain way or engage in behaviors that are unhealthy or things they are simply not comfortable with.

Before teens head to their big night out, sit down with them to discuss their plans for the evening. Check in on what they feel comfortable with and help them come up with a plan of action to stay safe and healthy — both mentally and physically. Speaking openly about it can help your teen stop to consider what they want and how to stay true to themselves. In your discussion, show your teen that you are on their side and if they need anything, you are happy to talk it through or provide assistance in any way you can. This can be a powerful opportunity for you to bond with your teen and show them that they have a trusted adult to come to for advice and support.

At Tilly’s Life Center, we believe that self-expression is a crucial aspect of building teen identity. A clear opportunity to let their unique personality shine is Halloween. For teens, it can be special to have this holiday to experiment, self-empower, and work towards a deeper understanding of who they want to be — and what they don’t want to be, too. Our mission is to provide teen mental health resources that encourage young people to explore their identities in safe, healthy, and productive ways. To learn more, visit us at www.tillyslifecenter.org.