by C. Brown
Visitor Question: We have too many big groups of teenagers traveling in packs in our shopping mall. They are loud, they run over old ladies, and they don't mind if they push over a toddler either. I saw one spill almost an entire cup of soda and just laugh and run away. She was close enough to the counter she could have told somebody. Their language is profane, and kids way too young for smoking are digging in their pockets for cigarettes even before they get out the door. How do other towns get the youth under control?
The short answer to your question is that many towns don't get the teenagers to meet adult expectations of their behavior. One of the tensions simply is that adults and teenagers, when asked separately, have different ideas of appropriate behavior. That part you have to live with.
But this is an instance of the 80-20 rule. Adults can have about 80 percent of what they would like in teenage behavior in a mall and in other public settings.
Partly, if you have rules, you must state them clearly and prominently at the entrances to the mall. Then enforce them. Use part-time security or even community volunteers if you have to. Usually the first few days and weeks are the testing period, and things calm down after that.
Rules that some malls have tried include requiring a parent or guardian to be with teenagers after 3 p.m. on weekends or 5 p.m. on weekdays. This is a problem because many teenagers work in the malls, so they have to have extra badges to display. It's also pretty limiting for well-mannered teenagers.
Others have tried ruling out sagging pants or baseball caps, with mixed results.
In e-mailing back and forth amongst ourselves about how to answer this question, the idea we liked best was to see if there is a large vacant space in your mall with an outside entrance. If there is, turn that into the coolest teen club ever. Make it a maze if you have to, but make it seem like there is a lot of walking room. Part of this is about seeing and being seen, so make sure it isn't just one big room worthy of only a few minutes of attention. It has to be interesting.
We're alluding to the fact that probably the teenagers have become a problem in the mall because they don't have enough to do. You need inexpensive entertainment there for them. They can't afford as many movies as it would take to avoid being at home with their boring parents.
You won't even begin to solve this problem unless you have a lot of dialogue between adults and teenagers. Find the adults (teachers, coaches, and such) that already have some rapport with the teens and enlist them in the dialogue project.
Bring in college students as facilitators; those who are studying to be attorneys or social workers would be good candidates. The teenagers will see them as closer to their age and likely more sympathetic.
Whoever is helping with the conversations has to be willing to really listen and to brainstorm with the teens about inexpensive things to do in the mall that won't set the adults on edge, will give them own place to congregate without their sheer numbers being a threat to other shoppers, and will take care of their natural wish to get out and socialize.
Take back your mall. If part of the problem is that your mall has too much vacancy, see our page on shopping center redevelopment.
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