Hanging out at the mall with friends is fun for preteens and teens, but it's not always the safest activity, though perhaps not for the reasons you might think. It's also increasingly difficult to drop your child off at the mall for a few hours with friends, since some malls have begun enforcing rules that forbid minors under age 18 from staying in the mall without a parent present. Children can get into trouble spending time in an environment which offers a multitude of temptations, which the mall definitely does.
Fewer children are actually abducted from malls or other public locations than urban legends would suggest, but the risk is not zero. According to a U.S. Justice report published in October 2002, there were approximately 115 "stereotypical kidnappings" that year, meaning the child was abducted by strangers or slight acquaintances. Of those, 38 percent were between the ages of 12 and 14, while 20 percent were between 15 and 17 and 24 percent were between ages 6 and 11. Out of the 115, 8 percent occurred in a store, restaurant or mall, according to the report.
Peer pressure is a powerful force on a child's behavior. If your child is with friends in a public place, he's more likely to indulge in behavior he wouldn't consider when he's with you. Preteens and teens egg each other on to cause a disturbance, act rudely, hassle other patrons, vandalize or steal. Rowdy teen or preteen groups have spurred small malls into enacting curfews or an outright ban on unaccompanied teens or preteens. Although you might be tempted to think that your child would never harass other people or steal, any child can succumb to peer pressure.
As many as one in 11 people shoplift, according to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention. Of those who shoplift, 25 percent are children. Many don't premeditate the crime; as many as 72 percent of juveniles claim that they didn't plan to shoplift in advance. If the store prosecutes your child, he could end up with a criminal record that isn't necessarily expunged at age 18, depending on his age. Shoplifting is rarely done out of need; more often, it's peer pressure that's behind the thrill of getting away with something.
It's difficult to prevent problems if you let your child go to the mall without you. Being in the mall but not with your child and his friends every minute gives them some freedom but puts you in the area in case things do get out of hand. Let him know that you'll come and get him at any time if he feels uncomfortable or pressured while with friends, no questions asked, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry recommends. Talking with your child in advance about the consequences you'll impose if any problems arise can help.