Last month, a number of shopping malls announced they would be implementing curfews during the holiday season that would prevent anyone under the age of 18 from being in the mall without adult supervision. The curfew, in effect for the past three weeks, only grows more restrictive as we near Christmas and winter recess. So why, during the time of the year when so many people are celebrating family, friends, and togetherness would these malls decide to implement a policy to keep youth out? Ironically, they say, to establish a family-friendly environment.
This new policy is in response to fights that broke out at one of the malls in 2016 and 2018. I can understand why these malls feel the need to do something to prevent incidents like these from happening again, but you can’t call yourself family-friendly by implementing a policy that is anti-teenager. More importantly, you can’t call yourself family-friendly by implementing a policy that will disproportionately impact low-income and single-parent households.
Teenagers, like most people, just want to spend time with their friends. This policy assumes parents, guardians, and other adult figures have the availability to come to the mall so their kids can socialize. It alienates families that work nights and weekends. It places an extra burden on single parents. It restricts kids that have no adult figure. Since this is only in place for the holidays, how do we expect single-parent households to be able to shop for their kids when they are required to be with them? How are these teenagers going to be able to buy presents for their parents when the mall says they have to hold Mommy’s hand while doing it?
For many people, myself included, your first time being dropped off at the mall to hang out with your friends is a great cultural rite of passage. This policy removes the decision-making power from parents and guardians on whether they trust their kids with the responsibility of being on their own in a public space and deprives teens of this significant cultural milestone. Despite claims that “they can just hang out elsewhere,” many teens don’t have access to safe places where they can gather together. I work with these kids and I do not want to see the list of places where they can go grow even smaller.
This conversation could easily morph into the need for more community supports and public outlets for our youth, and though I fully believe we need to invest in more resources for our children and teens, that is not the problem at hand here. The reason this seemingly simple policy is problematic is because it promotes the criminalization of youth. It is a dangerous, slippery slope that decides to exclude and punish based solely on normal adolescent behavior and age. How far will the malls take this policy? How strictly will it be enforced? Will we see youth arrested simply for trying to go shopping during the holidays? I hope that won’t be the case.
What should these malls do instead? I say nothing. Or at least, nothing beyond what they normally do during busy seasons. The incidents that brought about the curfew were the exception, not the rule, and I do not believe there is any way to prove whether the curfew will have a positive effect. Three of the four people arrested at the infamous mall brawl of 2018 were above the age of 17. At the bare minimum, we know this anti-teenager curfew would not have prevented their involvement.
Ultimately, I’m against any policy or practice that preemptively punishes or excludes someone, especially our youth. Unless stores plan on developing restrictions on adults entering the mall next Black Friday, I hope they will reconsider their policy of singling out customers based solely on their age.
Jordyn Wilson is a justice advisor with the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance.