Malls Debate Teen Policies After Rash of Christmas Weekend Fights

Sarah Freishtat and Vikki Ortiz Healy, Chicago Tribune, December 28, 2016

An unusually high number of teen fights at shopping centers across the U.S. over the Christmas weekend—including at suburban Chicago malls—is prompting some mall operators to re-examine security policies and consider controversial restrictions on when and how teens may shop.

Security task force members from malls across the U.S. conducted a conference call Tuesday to discuss strategies for preventing mayhem, which may include more mall security or even bans on teens coming to malls alone, after multiple reports of teen fights over the four-day holiday, said Stephanie Cegielski, vice president of public relations for the International Council of Shopping Centers.

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While security task force members for the shopping centers council noted that Dec. 26 historically prompts an increase in fights, this year’s incidents seemed more prevalent perhaps because Christmas fell on a Sunday and the federal holiday was observed Monday, offering teens and other shoppers one extra day to run into trouble, Cegielski said.

The incidents are prompting some mall operators to beef up security in anticipation of the upcoming long New Year’s weekend. Others are debating the need for parental guidance policies—rules that require children under the age of 18 to be accompanied by a parent. About 100 shopping centers already have some kind of teen restrictions, the council said.

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If the Aurora mall does ultimately change its rules to restrict teen shoppers, it will join 105 shopping centers of the 1,222 malls in the U.S. that currently have teen policies. The policies, which date back to the early 2000s, offer varying degrees of restrictions, according to data provided by the shopping centers council.

North Riverside Park Mall implemented a “youth escort policy” several years ago designed to keep shoppers safe. At times, it requires teens and children under 18 to be escorted by an adult at least 21 years old. Each adult can escort up to three people, general manager Harvey Ahitow said.

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“The shopping center was overrun with youths, especially on Friday and Saturday nights,” Ahitow said. “And that’s when we decided we needed to do something to maintain a safe shopping environment, and it’s been very effective.”

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For malls that don’t have teen restrictions, the decision to add them can be agonizing for retail management, which views teen consumers as not only important because of their disposable income, but also for their years of spending to come, said Alexander Chernev, professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

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Cegielski said mall operators have worked hard in recent years to keep shoppers coming back by evolving into entertainment centers with miniature golf, movie theaters and other attractions beyond stores. In turn, management must be mindful of restrictions put on its properties to ensure consumers aren’t deprived of a community experience. In some communities, bans on teens may also be perceived as racial profiling, she said.

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