Hey Kid, Where’s Your Mom? Malls Ratchet Up Restrictions on Unsupervised Teens

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Generally speaking, it’s unwise to kick customers — any customers — out of a shopping center. But what if kicking out certain customers increases the likelihood that other, wealthier customers will come to the mall and spend?

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the St. Louis Outlet Mall is ratcheting up its restrictions on unaccompanied teenagers. In 2006, a parental-escort policy was instituted: on Fridays and Saturdays starting at 6 p.m., anyone 17 or under who wasn’t accompanied by a guardian who was at least 21 years old would be kicked out of the mall. It was around this time that other malls around the U.S. likewise banned unaccompanied teens during certain evening hours.

Starting this Friday, the St. Louis Outlet Mall is pushing its parental-escort rule back to 3 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Similarly, the Mall of America expanded its parental-escort policy during the recent holiday shopping season. Normally, the policy bans kids without guardians from 4 p.m. until closing time just on Fridays and Saturdays. But because of a brawl in the mall involving dozens of young people that took place on Dec. 26, 2011 — a weekday — and that resulted in tons of bad p.r. after videos of the chair-throwing episode wound up on YouTube, the policy was broadened to include peak 2012 holiday shopping periods, including all of Christmas week.

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Teen disturbances in other malls have brought up speculation that more shopping centers will introduce or expand parental-escort policies. The Indianapolis Star noted that two back-to-back incidents in early 2013 in area shopping centers — a 15-year-old allegedly shot a gun at Lafayette Square Mall one night, and four teens got into a brawl with off-duty policy officers the next night at Circle Centre mall — raised the possibility that “Indianapolis malls might need to consider banning unsupervised juveniles.”

Obviously, such bans are aimed at stopping violence and other outbursts involving teenagers. More important, from a purely business perspective, these bans aim to attract shoppers who might otherwise be hesitant to go to the mall because of concerns about violence and outbursts involving teenagers. The restrictions allow mall security officers to systematically kick out a demographic that is perceived to be loud, thuggish and bad for business overall.

The manager of the St. Louis Outlet Mall told the Post-Dispatch that the increased parental-escort hours didn’t come as a result of a rise in incidences involving teens or any one particular disturbance:

“It wasn’t related to any kind of problems per se,” he said. “We’ve had some success with the parental-escort policy, and families like shopping out here together.”

He added that the mall wanted to make it feel less like “middle school” or “high school.”

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In some ways, the rules concerning unsupervised teens are intended to help the kids being banned. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, younger unaccompanied teens are the most likely individuals to be victimized by older teens and adults in their early 20s.

But again, the biggest influence on stricter mall policies for teens seems to be that they’re just plain good for business. Malls reported strong sales growth after they first instituted the policies a half-dozen years ago, and if there’s one rule in retail, it’s this: if a small initiative proves successful in boosting sales, then it’s all but guaranteed that a larger initiative will follow.