Note: This column, published last October, is running again due to popular demand.


I had a frightful experience last Halloween. A scantily-clad girl was wearing a store-bought costume that effectively transformed her into a sexy Mistress of the Dark. When I asked her mother how old her daughter was, she said, "10."

I was horrified.


Some people may think so. I don't. Why do so many people insist on eroticizing our children? Or require they follow prescribed stereotypes and gender roles?

Halloween should be a time to let childrens' imaginations soar! Instead, we too often settle for what's the most popular costume on the store rack.

As parents begin scratching their heads over what their children will be for Halloween, here are a few ideas, courtesy of Drs. Lyn Mikel Brown and Sharon Lamb, authors of "Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers' Schemes." The tips work for boys as well.

andbull;Help children think outside the box (especially boxes of store-bought costumes). Imagination and creativity can help boys and girls break out of gender stereotypes-and are great practice for reality.

andbull;Encourage children to be anyone or anything for Halloween andndash; and the rest of their lives. Help them to be inspired by real men and women doing wild, brave and phenomenal things.

andbull;Listen to a child's ideas and encourage all the possibilities. Children are bombarded with images of pink princesses, macho soldiers, sexy divas and pop stars, but don't assume anything-let a child's costume choice surprise you!

andbull;Discuss and work on Halloween costumes together. It's inexpensive and a great learning and bonding experience.

andbull;Sit down and let your children create their own character and story. They can raid the family closets to become the wildest or coolest character ever!

andbull;Tap into childrens' love for scary stories and the history of Halloween; help them go "traditional" and be a witch, Frankenstein or a ghost.

andbull; Draw on a child's favorite book or character. Reread the book with your daughter to plan what she'll need to become Anne of "Green Gables," Dorothy of "Oz," or Hermione Granger of "Harry Potter.." And don't rule out boy characters: Zorro, Peter Pan, Dracula, Willy Wonka or Gandolf from "Lord of the Rings."

andbull;Is your child an athlete or history buff? Halloween is a chance for girls to become Lorena Ochoa, Laura Engles, Mia Hamm, Danica Patrick, Sheryl Swoopes, Rosa Parks, Amelia Earhart or Joan of Arc. Boys can become Albert Einstien, Benjamin Franklin, Neil Armstrong, Michael Jordan or Ghengis Kahn!

A girl "being" Jane Goodall can carry a stuffed gorilla. A boy "being" a doctor can wear a stethoscope and a blood-spattered shirt. Once you start brainstorming, the ideas are endless!

Halloween is all about being what you aren't or what you wish to be. It's a perfect opportunity to show our children that they can be anyone, any profession, any role and any thing.

Don't let marketers dictate your child's imagination or, worse yet, turn them into an underaged Halloween harlot.

Let them be Dorothy of Oz, but without the skimpy skirt, plunging neckline, fishnet stockings and 3-inch ruby heels.