Banning unchaperoned teens from malls heralds end of retail hang out

Teens shopping for clothes According to a study by consumer research publisher Packaged Facts, teens are expected to spend $208.7 billion in 2011 -- mostly on clothes, music and movies. So why are they increasingly unwelcome at American malls on Friday and Saturday nights? The answer lies in an emerging trend that may herald the end of a modern day hang out.

First instituted by the mega-sized Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., in 1996, the practice of "Parental Escort Policies" -- requiring kids between the ages of 13 and 17 to be accompanied by an adult during specified hours -- is gaining popularity nationwide. Especially on weekends. In fact, in spite of a move that may seem counter intuitive, some retailers report that banning unchaperoned teens has resulted in better business.

In the ABC News article,New Policies Exterminating Teen Mall Rats, Kayleen Schaefer reported that Mid Rivers Mall in St. Louis, Mo., experienced a 5% increase in overall traffic after their ban on unchaperoned teens went into effect last May. Their sales rose 3 to 10% in "all categories, including teen-oriented retailers." Others report similar success.

Jesse Tron, media relations spokesperson for NY-based International Council of Shopping Centers, estimates that about 75 malls nationwide have "Parental Escort Policies" and believes we may see more in the future. "It's certainly going to be something [in which we see] the number increase," Tron told WalletPop. "It's not going to decrease."

Tron says the practice of malls implementing new escort policies is as cyclical as birds flying south for the winter, only in this case, it's the kids coming back to roost. "Children are back to school and not on vacation or somewhere else [like] during the summer months," says Tron. "They are back in that [hang out] mode." Tron says shoppers can expect more centers to add restrictive teen policies as the holidays draw near.

Another factor for the proliferation of policies can be attributed to property management groups that own more than one mall. "If a center has success with [a teen escort or curfew policy] and they own properties in other regions where they're having similar issues, they will be quicker to go to a policy," Tron says. "So you'll see a bunch in the same area sort of spring up, and that's why you'll see it happen at the same time in pockets."

One of the main "issues" Tron is referring to is the fact that families and older adults don't like navigating through large, congregating groups of teens. "Even if they are not doing anything bad," said Tron, "general rowdiness or loud behavior, anything like that could be a deterrent for other shoppers...[mall management] wants to make sure that their other shoppers feel safe and secure."

In fact, it's not only exuberant socializing that has retailers wringing their hands. In Florida, NBC 2 News Online (WBBH) reported: "In 2009, deputies wrote more than 400 trespass citations at malls in Lee and Collier Counties. Forty-six percent were given to kids 17 and under...As for arrests, 259 teens were arrested at malls in Lee, Collier and Charlotte Counties -making up 34% of all mall arrests. The main charge? Shoplifting."

The NBC 2 news team went undercover to investigate why hundreds of teens were being cited and arrested. All was calm until the journalists themselves were grabbed by mall security, cited for trespassing and arrested.

"The mall can request that anyone at anytime be removed from their property," Captain Kathy Rairden with the Lee County Sheriff's Office reportedly told the news crew.

Bottom line, malls are private property, and they get to decide when their shops are open and to whom. These basic operational bylaws may be increasingly put to the test as social networking and cell phones allow teens to text or tweet exactly where they are, what they are doing and invite their friends.

Party in the food court? Not if you want to keep your mall-going privileges...and a clean record.

"I raised five children who today range in age from 41 to 25," said WalletPop writer Jennie Phipps, "During those 15 or so years when I was shepherding them toward adulthood, it seems to me that there were increasing numbers of rules and diminishing tolerance for even minor divergence from them. I was really grateful when the last of mine turned 21 without facing major consequences for what I saw as minor infractions."

Lenore Skenazy, a columnist and author of "Free Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry," told ABC News, "They're treating 17-year-olds like they are babies who need supervision or juvenile delinquents who should be behind bars. There's a lot of self-fulfillment in that policy. The less chance we give them to prove themselves worthy of our respect, the less likely they will."

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