It’s Saturday morning, just before lunch. Your 13-year-old daughter emerges from her room and asks, “Mom, can you drive me to the mall?”
Hmm. Isn’t that where she spent the last three Saturdays? Now that you think of it, though, you had some shopping to do. And you wanted to get your daughter some new shoes. “Sure,” you reply. “We’ll go shopping together. I need to get some stuff too.”
Her hopeful expression changes to horror. “No, I want you to drive me to the mall and DROP ME OFF.”
Your feelings are a little hurt, of course, but you can’t help wondering why she always wants to hang out at the mall — and without you?
“Adults see malls as a place to shop,” explains Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia. “Teenagers go to the mall to meet their friends and because they’re hoping for a chance to run into the boys or girls they’re interested in.”
Hanging out at the mall peaks between ages 12 and 15, she says, probably because older teens may be able to drive or might have part-time jobs and more access to other places. But for younger teens, the mall can be a “third home” — right behind their house and school.
“In communities where there are no youth centres or other places where adolescents can get together, hanging out at the mall may be a developmental necessity,” Schonert-Reichl points out. “At this age, peer relationships are so important. A mall is a public place, so it’s a safe spot to meet the opposite sex or to get together with friends.”
“I don’t have to pay to go to the mall,” points out 13-year-old Alexis Deighton. “If I want to go swimming with my friends, it costs money.” Her mother, Bridget, doesn’t fret about the kids’ choice of hang-outs because she believes Alexis is fairly responsible. “Alexis tells me that she and her friends are polite to the clerks,” she says, “that they fold up any clothes they have tried on and that they don’t run around the mall.”
Schonert-Reichl says this is typical of most teens. “Only a small percentage get into trouble,” she comments. “However, hanging out at the mall does provide a certain opportunity for negative behaviours like shoplifting, and there can be some subtle negative peer pressure.”
Schonert-Reichl says there is some potential for problems — such as bullying — at malls because there is no direct adult supervision. But, she adds, the presence of adult shoppers and staff, and mall security, usually keep things from getting out of hand. “If you are concerned,” she adds, “remind your child that she can ask for help from store staff or security guards if she’s feeling anxious.”
My friend’s son, Jonathan, was actually banned from our local mall when he was 13. He and some friends bought fake vomit and set it out in the middle of the corridor. Then they sat on benches to watch the reactions of shoppers. It wasn’t long before mall security sent in a cleanup crew, discovered the joke and noticed the teenagers snickering nearby. The boys got a stern talking-to, a phone call to their parents, and were banned from the place for a year.
While that response might have been justified, many teens find they’re all tarred with the same brush. “My friends and I often get dirty looks from and are served rudely by the older clerks,” says Alexis. “They’re frequently disrespectful and impatient with us. There is one clerk in particular who follows us around the store, and if we pick something up and look at it and then go to put it back down on the shelf, she snatches it out of our hands and puts it back herself.”
If you’re worried about the potential problems, Schonert-Reichl suggests offering to drive your teen to the mall and pick him up, and use that time to talk about what happened during the visit. This doesn’t need to be intrusive, she says, just showing interest in what he bought and whom he saw.
But don’t feel slighted if you’re not invited: “The mall is the place to meet other kids,” Schonert-Reichl says. “The teen who is at the mall with a parent feels pretty uncomfortable as she looks enviously at the other kids chatting in little groups.”
Her compromise solution: Head to the mall together, but split up right away so you can do your shopping while she hangs out in some other spot. Set a time to meet so you can drive home together. And don’t feel insulted if she walks past you at some point without acknowledging your existence. After all, someone could be watching!