Penalizing all teens is not the answer for mall woes

  • Written by Bob Rakow

My daughter was at Chicago Ridge Mall a few Saturdays ago buying a dress and other essentials for her school’s sophomore dance.


She invited me to come along, but I didn’t feel much like a trip to the mall, so my wife dropped her and a friend off, and I picked them up a few hours later.


It was, from what I gathered, a successful trip. The girls both were excited that they’d found what they needed for the big dance.


I have no doubt that they comported themselves appropriately while at the shopping center and did absolutely nothing to disrupt anyone else’s shopping experience.


They were there, after all, with a purpose: to find dresses, shoes and accessories for a high school dance. They may have bumped into some friends, stopped in the food court for a bite to eat, but that’s about it.


They don’t view the mall as a place to linger, pop in and out of stores for no reason and cause trouble. They were raised better than that.


But last weekend, the mall implemented its new youth supervision policy, which prohibits teens 17 and under from entering the mall after 5 p.m. unless accompanied by an adult. 


The restriction comes a few months after a melee at the mall, prompted by a fight in the food court, which escalated when some patrons thought that shots were fired.


They weren’t, but that’s beside the point.


For a brief period during one of the busiest shopping weekends of the year, things got out of control at Chicago Ridge Mall as customers ran in every direction, and police from several departments responded to restore order.


Similar incidents occurred at others malls across the country that weekend, leading many to believe that some organized effort took place to wreak havoc in shopping centers. The Chicago Ridge police chief doesn’t believe the ruckus was the result of a flash mob, but you never know.


So now there’s a policy in place to keep unaccompanied teens out of the mall on Fridays and Saturdays after 5 p.m. Mall officials say the new policy is not in response to the December incident.


Either way, I hate the idea.


And I don’t think teens like my daughter and her friends are too wild about it either.  I don’t blame them. What did they do? Why are they being penalized?


It’s interesting. Many of these teens’ names can be found on high school honor rolls. They are involved at their schools as members of clubs or athletic teams. Some have the driver’s licenses needed to get to the mall, but they can’t enter the mall alone.


I understand that the mall needed to do something, and hiring off-duty Chicago Ridge police officers to work with mall security is a great start. Ratcheting up the security and law enforcement presence and making arrests when necessary will send the clear message that the mall means business.


Additionally, keeping a close eye on teens deemed to be troublemakers, recording any incidents in which they are involved would be a worthy step. The mall is private property and officials can ask anyone to leave. I’m sure security knows who the agitators are. The bullies, the shoplifters, the miscreants who have no idea how to behave in public.


Lean on them. Show them the door.


But the mall decided, instead, to punish all teens by telling them can’t come to shopping center unescorted on Friday and Saturday nights. True, they’re not banned, but how many teens want to spend time at the mall under the watchful eye of their mother or father? I suppose the job could fall to an older brother or sister, but I’m thinking most of them have better things to do on a weekend evening.


Which raises another point. What’s to say trouble or a fight at the mall can’t happen before 5 p.m.? I don’t know much about mall attendance trends, but I’ll bet a fair amount of unescorted teens will be at the mall during the afternoon.


The mall was given a tough assignment: maintain a pleasant shopping experience while preventing troublesome incidents that lead to bad publicity and drive customers away.


Restricting every teen under 18 years old is not the way to achieve that goal.