Monday, February 20, 2023

The Mall Problem

Things that make you scratch your head:

My town is trying to lower the driving age to 15 because the current legal age "prevents teens from being able to work" & they're trying to implement a rule that teens can't be at the mall without an adult chaperone so a 15 year old can drive themself to work but not to the mall. - - @baptisedbones

Now, that's not here in Maryland. It’s in Pennsylvania. I’m sharing it because it reveals examples of people trying to “fix the problems with teens” in a way that doesn’t really make sense in the big picture. 

Here in Columbia/HoCo the big news has been that the Mall in Columbia is considering the implementation of a youth escort policy. 

After complaints about teen ‘chaos’, Columbia Mall adds police patrols, could require chaperones, Abby Zimmardi, Baltimore Banner

I have no first-hand knowledge of this problem. I have not ever been at the Mall during times of ‘teen chaos’. Readers of the blog know I haven’t ever been an avid Mall person during my Columbia years, and that I haven’t really been anywhere there might be crowds of people for the last several years. So my opinions on this topic are going to be purely theoretical.

As a teacher I’m inclined to want to know where the undesirable behavior is coming from and if there are unmet needs that we, as a community, should be addressing. I understand that plenty of people don’t look at it this way. They want to shop, the teens are doing things that make them feel unsafe. Their conclusion is that they are law abiding, the teens are not. They are respectable citizens, the teens are not.

They belong there, the teens do not.


Teens love and patronize malls with far more faithfulness than many adults. (Just Google the phrase “teens spend money at malls” if you’re curious.) If we respond to this situation by throwing more police and more restrictions at it, we are essentially developing exclusionary policies that place value on some people and devalue others. 

This Facebook post by a friend made me think:

You can't scream "youth mental health" and then deny them gathering spaces, not address bullying effectively, and not address the underlying needs that exhibit themselves in supposed bad behavior. The anti tween/teen county. HoCo. We aren't in Victorian times where children should be seen and not heard. 

I have an underlying suspicion that there may be a hint of racism underlying complaints of large groups of teens at the mall. Despite our claim to fame as great lovers of diversity, we still tend to get more alarmed by groups of Black and Brown people than white ones. And, without going through any conscious intellectual process, we just feel more fearful. 

Could that be playing into the situation at the mall? I don’t know. Are groups of white teens perceived as “goofy or rowdy or just being kids” while groups of Black and Brown teens are “unruly and dangerous”? 

I don’t know. But I do know that sometimes it isn’t just the behavior we need to examine, but also our perceptions of the behavior. Most people don’t want to do that.

If you are inclined to say that teens weren’t like this in your day I’d counter by suggesting that in your day you weren’t barraged by constant social media, fearful of school massacres, hadn’t experienced living through a worldwide pandemic, or watched tapes of people being murdered by police, feared the impending doom of climate change…need I say more?

Whatever teens are today they are a product of their environment. This isn’t just about “home training”.Do we really care about who they are as human beings or do we just want them out of our way?

The Mall could choose to implement a policy that makes things look better to us but has negative consequences for young people. And then what happens? The problem doesn’t go away. It just goes somewhere else and/or becomes a bigger and more complicated problem. 

What kind of a solution do we want? 

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