This is stupid.
That was my first reaction upon learning that the Indian River Mall has begun enforcing a “Code of Conduct” that prohibits anyone under age 17 from being on the premises unless they are accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.
For the mall’s ownership and management to essentially ban a sizable segment of their visitors seemed silly, or at least counterproductive, considering the place already is struggling to attract enough customers to survive.
It didn’t make sense for them to turn away the dollars spent by the swarm of teenagers buzzing around the place, particularly at the food court and arcade, especially on Friday and Saturday nights.
So I put on my reporter’s hat and went to work.
I drove to the mall – admittedly, a place I don’t frequent – and talked to people. I called Mike Kohan, the mall’s owner. I found on social media dozens of public comments expressing both criticism of and support for the parental-accompaniment requirement.
And now, having mentally digested all that I’ve seen and heard, the change in policy doesn’t seem so stupid. It seems wise, maybe even necessary.
Certainly, it was worth a try.
“We didn’t do this for no reason,” Kohan said of the decision to require adult supervision of the 16-and-under crowd. “Some things were happening and we were receiving complaints.”
Kohan did not offer specifics or cite the particularly egregious incidents that prompted the mall to implement its controversial policy, which went into effect Feb. 1 and will be revisited after 60 days.
But Facebook did.
The Vero Beach Eyes and Ears Neighborhood Cyber Watch page provided an ongoing, informative, sometimes-emotional debate that was as maddening as it was entertaining.
Apparently, far too many unsupervised teens had been conducting themselves boorishly, acting like thugs, and the problem was getting worse.
The comments posted cited everything from the too-public use of disgusting language and blatant disrespect for adults to allegations of shoplifting and destruction of property.
There were reports of pseudo-tough teens running in packs and intimidating older customers. Some posters said they had witnessed physical altercations that prompted calls to the sheriff’s office.
“I am actually fearful of going to the mall, even in the daytime,” one poster wrote. “I was in line for food when three teen boys came up, stood on my right side with the biggest bumping into me and then stepping ahead of me.
“He acted as though he didn’t know I was there, and the other two were just watching and poised for me to say something,” the post continued, adding, “My young grandson was with me, 7 at the time. No one else in line paid any attention. Extremely intimidating.”
Others supportive of the new policy reported:
- They saw teens “break the sliding doors open and then gang up on the security guards, pushing, shoving and trying to fight them” before deputies arrived and arrested the young thugs.
- Seeing a “gang of 11 or 12 of them completely terrorize the food court area one day last fall . . .”
- Observing “tons of kids, ages 10 to late teens,” unsupervised and acting like fools, running and screaming. “The boys grabbing young girls by the breast or butt.”
Another poster to the Cyber Watch page recalled visits to the mall’s movie theater, where teens weren’t only loud and disruptive – uttering profanities, rudely talking and using their smart phones to take photos during the show, propping their feet up on the backs of the occupied seats in front of them, throwing popcorn at other customers – but one couple was having sex two rows behind where he was seated.
When anyone would ask the teens to be quiet or behave themselves, the response was always the same: “(Expletive) off.”
And just so you know, it’s not only older mall-goers who are complaining about the teens’ behavior and support the mall’s actions.
A self-described 18-year-old poster wrote that the “same 12- to 16-year-olds” show up every weekend and “all they do is walk around and cause problems,” adding, “They have to be watched like 2-year-olds and they’re just making it an all-around bad experience for everyone involved.”
To be fair – the policy is unfair.
As several Cyber Watch page posters argued: There are plenty of mall-going teens who were properly raised, behave appropriately and don’t require adult supervision.
Why shouldn’t they be allowed to hang out at the mall with their friends and without their mom or dad?
According to those I spoke with at the mall – and contrary to what some parents posted on the Cyber Watch page – the good kids might still outnumber the bad kids, but the number of trouble-making teens is increasing.
And the behavior of too many teens is getting worse, so much so that the mall’s management felt compelled to do something to protect its customers, employers and itself, as well as the well-behaved teenagers who might be harmed by their peers’ reckless antics.
Some critics of the policy say it’s up to the mall’s security staff to police the place and, with the help of law enforcement when necessary, protect the innocent from the disruptive kids.
That’s true, to a certain extent. But it’s not the mall’s job – or the security staff’s responsibility – to raise our children and teach them how to conduct themselves respectfully in public.
You want to blame somebody for this new policy? Blame the parents who didn’t do their jobs.
Maybe that’s what has changed over the past 50 years as shopping malls were built across America and teens from coast to coast flocked to them with their friends in search of “something to do.”
To this day, walking into a mall fills me with nostalgia, spurring fond memories of my own teen years, when my neighborhood buddies and I would go to a local mall to catch a movie, or to eat, or to just hang out in hopes of meeting girls.
Sometimes, we rode our bikes. Sometimes, a parent dropped us off. When we turned 16, we borrowed mom’s car and drove ourselves.
Our parents weren’t there, and they didn’t need to be.
We weren’t perfect kids. We got involved in our share of mischief. But we were raised to respect our elders, respect authority, and respect other people’s property.
We were taught that actions had consequences – and, trust me when I tell you, those consequences could be quite unpleasant.
Clearly, parenting has changed through the years, and so have children. We live in a far more permissive, complex, connected and dangerous world.
The teen-behavior problem at our mall was merely a microcosm of what’s going on in many places, which is why the mall’s management has received both praise and criticism for taking a position.
Did Kohan and his team go too far? Will the adult-supervision requirement put too large a dent in the mall’s business? Will economics, rather than public safety, determine whether the policy will be revoked or amended?
I don’t know how much money teens were spending during their weekend mall visits. I don’t know if it was enough to justify the damage done by the aggressive teens who were scaring away shoppers, intimidating older customers, destroying property and shoplifting.
I do know such behavior should not be tolerated anywhere, not only at the mall, where the new policy requires adult supervision of kids 16 and under.
That’s essentially banning them, because hanging out at the mall with friends is not something teens want to do with their moms and dads in tow. But given the troubling circumstances, what else could be done?
Parental supervision should begin at home.
Not at the mall.