It’s 10 o’clock on a Friday night and all 15-year-old Sylvia Fallon wants to do is hang out with her friends at the mall.
But she’ll have to dodge security: Easton Town Center, like many shopping centers across the country, has a curfew for unchaperoned teens. Here, the witching hour is 9:30 p.m. At other malls, the curfew is as early as 6.
“I think it’s, like, annoying because what am I going to do anyway?” said Sylvia, striding briskly across the food court at 10:10, her eyes scanning the plaza for patrolling guards.
“We just try to go by really fast. If you don’t look them straight in the eye, it’s OK,” Sylvia pointed out before excusing herself.
The mall, for many teens, is more than a place to spend money — it’s a place to see and be seen, a place to entertain themselves, sometimes just a place to escape Mom’s nagging.
“Teens don’t really feel like there’s a lot of places for them. They don’t want to hang out at home. They can’t go to a bar or nightclub, obviously,” said Rob Callender, senior trends manager for Teen Research Unlimited, a marketing research firm.
Some malls set curfews after fights broke out among unruly teens; at other centers, it was a way to unclog the hallways for paying customers.
“Hanging out in large groups, that is what we’re not looking for,” said Jim Craycroft, the facilities manager at Newport on the Levee in Newport, Ky., across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. The mall requires escorts after 8 p.m. except for teens going directly to a movie theater.
68 percent of teens in malls
The International Council of Shopping Centers does not keep track of how many of the country’s 46,990 malls and shopping centers have curfews, but they are enforced at malls in not only Kentucky and Ohio, but also Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina.
According to Teenage Research Unlimited, 68 percent of 12- to 19-year-olds spend time at the mall in any given week. On average, teens spend 3½ hours at the mall each week.
The Mall of America in suburban Minneapolis, the country’s largest retail and entertainment center, began its “parental escort policy” in 1996.
“They like to hang out in big groups, they like to see their friends, but then customers couldn’t walk through the hallways,” said Maureen Bausch, the mall’s vice president of business development.
Teens 15 and younger must be accompanied by a parent or guardian 21 or older after 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. One adult can escort up to 10 children.
In the year before the curfew went into effect, Mall of America had about 300 incidents involving youths under 16 that required mall officials to either issue trespassing citations or call police. The year after the policy was put into place, there were two incidents, Bausch said.
“You don’t just say you’re not welcome because they are welcome,” she said. “We just welcome them with a parent,” she said.
Lots of loitering
Mall of America had about 10,000 youths under 16 on any Friday or Saturday night before the policy, Bausch said. Now, there are even more shoppers on those nights.
Some retailers at Easton said the rule helps them maintain a more professional atmosphere.
“A curfew benefits retailers mainly because we don’t have a bunch of kids running around,” said Matt Radici, 23, who works at the mall’s T-Mobile cell phone store.
“There’s a lot of loitering, and cell phones are such a fashion item that they’ll take the model phones, the plastic ones that don’t work, because they think they’re cool,” he said.
Some teens — 15-year-old of Sarah Creelman, for one — aren’t bothered by the curfew.
Sarah, who lives in the Columbus suburb of New Albany, spent the day at Easton recently, shopping and watching a movie with her neighbor and their little sisters.
As lines of cars rolled by her on the bustling Friday night, Sarah said she goes to Easton about twice a month. She likes the mall, curfew or not, because it has everything — clothing stores, McDonald’s, coffee shops.
“I think it’s fair enough,” she said, “because most parents want you home at a certain time anyway.”