SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Over the past few decades, the local shopping mall has become the hub of pre-teen and teenage social life — but in some suburban areas around the country unaccompanied teens have been banned from their favorite weekend meeting place.
The 1995 film, "Mallrats," which had the tagline, "They're not there to shop. They're not there to work. They're just there," paid homage to the American teen's favorite pastime.
But managers at some of the nation's 1,100 enclosed malls found themselves having to police youngsters "just hanging out" and causing mischief, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights.
As a result, more than a handful of malls have implemented parental escort policies. For instance, on Sept. 5, Dayton Mall in Dayton, Ohio, began requiring anyone under the age of 16 to be accompanied by an adult escort 21 years old or older after 4 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
"Some of our guests were concerned about youths being loud, abusive and harassing, to each other and other shoppers," said Michael Minns, general manager of Dayton Mall. "It was fairly known throughout the community that we had bad behavior on weekends."
Visitors must carry proof of age, such as a driver's license or college ID, which is checked at the mall's entrances.
Malachy Kavanagh, spokesman for the International Council of Shopping Centers (search), a trade association, said the parental escort policies are usually the "last stopgap measure when they've perhaps exhausted other measures."
He pointed out that teens are a major source of mall employment. They also make up a strong consumer base, spending big bucks in clothing stores like Abercrombie & Fitch and Express, feeding coins into games at the arcade and slurping Cokes in the food court.
"It's problematic when it becomes a gathering place instead of its intended use of commerce," Kavanagh said. "Older people can sometimes be intimidated just by sheer numbers [of teens]."
Still, Kavanagh said the policy is up to individual malls to implement and is "location-specific."
Carousel Mall (search) in Syracuse, N.Y., which features a beautiful 1909 carousel on which visitors can ride, is only the second of the 16 Pyramid-owned (search) malls to enforce a teen curfew. The first was Walden Galleria in Cheektowaga, N.Y.
Carousel's parental escort policy requires anyone under 18 to be accompanied by a 21-year-old adult on Friday and Saturday nights in the mall's "common areas." Unescorted teenagers are permitted in the mall's anchor stores, which have their own entrances, and movie theaters after 4 p.m.
And so far, the policy seems to be accomplishing its intended goals.
"Riders on our carousel ride are up," said mall manager Rob Schoeneck, who instituted the policy on June 6. "Store employees are telling us that it's a more pleasant place to work; tenants are saying that sales are up."
But how do teens feel about the policy?
"I think it's a bad thing," said 16-year-old Shannon of Gouverneur, N.Y., who was shopping at Borders in the Carousel Mall on a recent Saturday. "If you want to come to the mall you should be able to. Otherwise, some teens will probably be back to hanging out in the streets again."
But another local teen said she thinks the policy is fine.
"If they really want to hang out at night, they can go to other malls," said Mackenzie, 15, of Central Square, N.Y. "It's good to keep down the crime."
Mackenzie and her friend Chris recalled a well-known incident at the mall in which a schoolmate of theirs dropped a soda over one of the railings and it hit a small child.
Schoeneck confirmed that the incident took place, but stressed that no specific event influenced the decision to implement the new policy.
"There were bad language issues, four or five teens walking in a group, running up and down escalators in the wrong direction, not letting people on the elevators," he said. "We found we were spending an inordinate amount of time on Friday and Saturday nights dealing with inappropriate teen behavior."
It's no surprise that the enormous Mall of America (search) in Bloomington, Minn., was one of the first to implement a parental escort policy in 1996.
"Large numbers of teens, and by that we mean thousands of unsupervised teens, were roaming the mall on Friday and Saturday nights," said spokeswoman Monica Davis. "We were having a number of incidents where Bloomington police had to respond; fights were happening."
Among other malls that have implemented parental escort policies are Westfield Shoppingtown Northwest in St. Ann, Mo., Colonial Mall Glynn Place in Brunswick, Ga., and Newport on the Levee in Newport, Ky.
Davis said the shift in customer demographic is proof that the policy has worked at the Mall of America.
"We've reinstated a family atmosphere on Friday and Saturday nights," she said. "Families have returned."