New Policies Exterminating Teen Mall Rats

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On Friday and Saturday nights, at an increasing number of malls across the country, teenagers are being forced to bring along the one person they'd most likely rather leave behind: a parent.

Dozens of malls now have what they call a "parental escort policy," meaning teens under the age of 18 have to be with a parent or guardian who is 21 or over to enter. Most shopping centers have these restrictions only on weekend evenings, but some keep them in place seven days a week.

The Mid Rivers Mall in St. Louis, Mo., started sending away teens at the end of May, and it has resulted in both more customers and sales. After a month, overall mall traffic was up 5 percent on Friday and Saturday nights, and sales were up 3 to 10 percent in all categories, including teen-oriented retailers, according to the property's management.

Last month, the Tri-County Mall in Cincinnati joined the list of malls with a teen escort policy, and Jesse Tron of the International Council of Shopping Centers said the practice is spreading, particularly with schools back in session and the mall socializing that comes with it.

"We're in a period of increased activity for this," he said. "It's cyclical. Throughout the holidays, you'll see new policies be enacted."

The gigantic Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., was the first to ban teens who didn't have adult supervision, in 1996, according to Tron's group. By 2007, 39 malls had similar restrictions and by 2010, the number had nearly doubled to 66.

The impetus for these regulations isn't usually a specific incident, like a brawl. Instead it is the generally unruly, horseplay-heavy crowds concentrated in the food court and at the movie theater entrance.

Malls Find Banning Unescorted Teens Is Good for Business

Before Crossgates Mall in Albany, N.Y., put a teen curfew in place, it had become "a babysitting service," said general manager Joe Castaldo, with thousands of teen mall rats roaming around.

The Crossgates rule is strictly enforced, starting at 4 p.m. Saturday when it goes into effect. On a recent weekend, one embarrassed teen boy was escorted by two mall cops in Smokey-style hats to his mother in another store at 4:09 p.m.

The Atlantic Terminal Mall in Brooklyn, N.Y., is even more restrictive. It bars groups of four or more unsupervised under the age of 21. When five or more shoppers as old as 20 are found, they are asked to disburse into smaller groups or leave.

"The policy is that kids aren't allowed to use the mall as a hangout," said Joe DePlasco, a spokesman for the mall's operator. "We're concerned about the overall experience at the mall."

Shelly Mahon, a parent in Boulder, Colo., regrets the mall crackdown. She lets her 16-year-old son Blake go to the local mall a couple of times a month with friends.

"They go see a movie and walk around," she said. "I don't like them to be there for long periods of times, more than a couple of hours, but I think young people do need a safe place where they can go and the mall can be a safe place."

Lenore Skenazy, a columnist and author of "Free Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry," said it's a mistake to bust up kids' clans or restrict where they can go. She lets her 12- and 14-year-old visit stores in New York by themselves.

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