More businesses require teens to be chaperoned by adults, curbing their independence

A security guard places a wristband on a person outside the Mall in Columbia on May 12 in Columbia, Md. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

PARAMUS, N.J. — Jennifer Sepulveda used to drop off her 14-year-old son, Jorden, at the local mall on a Friday or Saturday night, where he would catch a movie with his friends and then hang out afterwards at the food court or elsewhere.

Not anymore.


Starting April 18, Garden State Plaza in Paramus, New Jersey — the second largest mall in the state — is requiring anyone under 18 years old to be accompanied by a chaperone at least 21 or older on Fridays and Saturdays after 5 p.m.

The move, according to the mall, follows “an increase in disruptive behavior by a small minority of younger visitors.” That included a reported brawl in the food court last year and a fight in March that brought swarms of policemen to the center but ended up being a smaller altercation than initially reported.

Sepulveda of Passaic, New Jersey said she was fine with the new policy.

Jorden, on the other hand, was disappointed. Although he acknowledged the frequent mall fights, he lamented, “It was the main place to go and roam around and hang out with my friends, and I am sad.”

Requiring an adult chaperone at malls, at least for certain times of the day, is not new. Mall of America, the nation’s largest shopping mall, imposed a chaperone policy back in 1996 and has been increasingly tightening it as recently as 2020 when it mandated that teens be accompanied by adults after 3 p.m. daily.

But experts say Garden State Plaza joins a growing number of shopping centers, amusement parks and even a few restaurants that have implemented similar policies in the last few months ahead of the summer season. And they all cite increased incidents of bad behavior among teens as the reason.

Even a Chik-fil-A franchise in southeast Pennsylvania caused a stir with its social media post earlier this year that announced its policy of banning kids under 16 without an adult chaperone, citing unruly behavior.

Violent crime arrests among youth had actually been on the decline for years, falling to a new low in 2020, according to the latest federal data. The number of youth homicide victims, however, increased 30% from 2019 to 2020. In the years since 2020, authorities in some areas report a rise in crime among youth, including New York, Washington, D.C. and Colorado.

Many praise chaperone policies as a way to reduce disruptions to business. But some critics say the new parental controls hurt teens’ independence and social development.

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