The Lost Art of Hanging Out at the Mall

Last year, Northwoods Mall enacted a curfew policy that requires teens under the age of 18 have a parent or guardian with them, if they are at the mall after 6 pm on Fridays and Saturdays. This was supposedly in response to a number of incidents (none of which I can seem to find online) involving teenagers at the mall. I haven’t been a fan of the policy since it went into effect, but I don’t go to the mall very often, nor do my kids, so it was just a passing annoyance for me.

All that changed yesterday. My 14 year old wanted to go to the mall with some friends. She had a way there, and a way home, so everything was hunky dory.  I made sure she knew the policy of having a parent or guardian with them. At 5:30 yesterday, my daughter texted me to ask if I could come be the supervising adult. I’m not sure what happened that led to there being no adults with them, but I knew this was important to my kid and her group of friends, so I went and met them in the food court right before 6 pm. The food court. You know, that open area, with lots of restaurants, where we can all pick something different to eat and then sit together? Yeah, that.

So I told my kid that since *I* hadn’t had dinner yet, it was time to eat, and everyone went off to to order their respective meals. No kidding, by the time I had my pizza and drink in hand, a security officer had corralled the group of 12 kids and was telling them about the curfew. I hadn’t been gone for 10 minutes, and I could SEE all of them. I went over to introduce myself as the supervising parent, and Mr. Security Officer informed me that we were already technically breaking the rules by only having one adult for a dozen kids. I wish I had said, “I adopted them all from foster care, they’re all mine,” because the security policy says that there’s no limit for how many of your own children you can supervise, just a limit with other people’s kids.

Mr. Security Officer had cop written all over him, so I suspect this is his side gig. One of the girls in the group chose that moment to speak up and say that they’re all good kids. Yes, that girl has purple hair, but I had to pick my jaw up a little when Mr. Security Officer responded with, “Yes, Purple Hair, all the kids say that.” Before anything could go further, I assured him that we were aware of the policy, although not the limit on the number of kids, and they would all be supervised.

We made it through dinner, and Mr. Security Officer only made a couple of rounds near the kids, one when part of the group went over to DQ to get ice cream (20 feet from our tables!), and one when 3 of the kids went to the restroom. Because I was apparently supposed to follow them into the bathroom and make sure they didn’t destroy the place. Then shopping commenced.

So if you’ve ever gone to the mall with 14 year olds, especially a large group of them, you know it’s kind of like herding cats. They wander, they’re distracted by shiny stuff, and you have to keep a head count, lol. We encountered security officers everywhere, Mr. Security Officer and some of his friends, but he was definitely the most aggressive of the bunch.  The mall was dead, so they apparently had plenty of time to follow groups of supervised kids around. I got a look when I didn’t follow the whole group into Claire’s, but instead stood at the entrance. Where I could SEE all of them because Claire’s is a teeny, tiny store. They were ready to step in if the group seemed to separate at all. The kids were told to move because they were standing too close to the pretzel place. Never  mind the fact that no one was ordering pretzels. Because the mall was dead.

Look, I don’t mind malls that require a parent to be with minor children. But expecting parents to literally be a half step behind the kids is ridiculous. I resent the suggestion that I’m not supervising a group of kids because I’m 50 feet away fro them. I resent the idea that teens are inherently bad, and I resent that this mall has created such a restrictive policy that punishes kids for their age.

Per the security policy, kids can be asked for ID by the guards at any time. If they can’t produce ID that proves they’re 18, they must leave. If a guardian can’t prove that he/she is 21, they must leave. That means my 18 year old can’t take my 14 year old to the mall after 6pm on a weekend. Not that she would, but she can’t. For teens under 18 who work in the mall, they must carry ID and produce it whenever asked. If it’s after 6 pm, they can go directly to and from the store where they work and cannot go into any other store in the mall.

And suppose they do happen upon minor teens who are alone at the mall? The security officers tell them to leave. Is it really the best idea to kick a 14 year old out, with no notification to parents? There have been drug deals gone wrong in parking lots adjacent to the mall, and at least two shootings in the past few years in the mall parking lot.

Northwoods Mall is owned by CBL & Associates, Inc. At first, it was suggested to me that it might be a policy with all the malls that company owns, but after browsing their properties page on their website, that’s not the case. Roughly half, maybe less, of the malls they own have a youth escort policy. CBL & Associates owns multiple malls in South Carolina, but the Northwoods Mall is the only one with a youth escort policy.

I’ve tried to find some statistics on incidents that have happened inside the mall, and I’ve come up with nothing. I do know that the parking lot incidents, and an incident that happened in July, where two guys started shooting at each other INSIDE A STORE, involved people who were 18 or over. The police departments here are very hush-hush, and it’s pretty common for major crimes to never be publicized here, so it’s not surprise that information about crimes like shoplifting or disorderly conduct can’t be accessed by the general public.

We’re trying to raise kids to be productive adults. And yet adults look at them with suspicion and are okay with policies that effectively punish kids for just being teenagers. I’m not foolish enough to believe that kids are perfect and never do anything wrong, but I see no reason to assume the worst of kids. I know that the group my 14 year old hangs out with is a really damn good group of kids, and I’m happy to claim them.

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