Criminalizing Being a Teenager
A growing number of shopping malls are turning away teenagers during evening hours unless they’re accompanied by adults.
Restrictions at some malls apply every night, others on Fridays and Saturdays. Hours and ages vary. The rules are meant to reduce fighting and ensure that adults and families don’t avoid malls where rowdy teenagers take over stores, corridors and food courts.
The Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., was the first U.S. mall to create an “escort policy” in 1996, says the International Council of Shopping Centers. The idea has caught on: 39 malls now have limits on teenagers. Fifteen implemented such policies in the past two years and dozens more are considering them.
I hate this default assumption that all teenagers are criminals; it bothered me when I was a teenager and my attitude hasn’t changed since. It’s the last acceptable and perfectly legal form of discrimination. Some teenagers cause trouble, so rather than punish the behavior we punish someone for being a certain age; that’s the very definition of discrimination and contrary to the ideals of a supposedly free society.
Further, while this might solve the problem for the malls – it does nothing to solve the root problem and in fact exacerbates it. The root problem is that there’s just nothing to do in the suburbs but go to the mall. These monuments to consumerism are unfortunately the new public squares; and without any real recreational options for teenagers, it’s no surprise that they become mallrats. It’s a signal that there’s something profoundly wrong with our society.
More than that – what’s left that a teenager can legally do with their spare time? They can’t go very far, since they lack transportation. They don’t have a lot of cash. In my experience, police will harass any group of teenagers hanging out in a public place, irrespective of whether they’re doing anything criminal. It seems that society just wishes they’d stay in their parents’ basements until they turn 18, at which point they’ll go outside for the first time.
When we treat all teenagers like criminals, irrespective of their own personal behavior, what are we teaching them? Is it any surprise that so many become socially maladjusted?