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Moms Talk: Tweens at the Mall -- Without Parents?

In this week's Moms Talk, we discuss pre-teens hanging out at the mall... alone. What's your take on this?

Fortunately, she hasn’t asked yet. Yet.

But I can sense the day looming ahead of me like a dark, ominous cloud. On that day, my friends, my girl child will ask me a simple question, and the depths of my paranoia will leap up in a black, swirling vortex to terrify and astonish her.

I imagine it will go something like this—

Sailor (age 12): “Mom, can I go to the mall with my friends? Alone?”

Me: “Uh, well… OVER MY DEAD BODY.”

Merely thinking about it makes me want to run around the room flapping my hands and shrieking. She’s a seventh grader, and she and her friends are growing up, testing boundaries and craving independence. It’s a natural part of becoming a teenager. But twelve? At the mall? With strangers? Alone?

I don’t think so.

Is there a specific age at which tweens should be allowed this rite of passage? I see kids my daughter’s age roving in loud, giggling groups through the stores with no adults in sight all the time. When did their parents decide this was okay? Are they just naturally more loose and casual than me? I’d love some input here.

Ironically, I was thinking about writing about this subject last week when I came across an article in Parenting, School Years. Guess what it’s about?

New York City-based Parenting Educator Julie Ross, author of How to Hug a Porcupine: Negotiating the Prickly Points of the Tween Years, says you just go with your own sense of whether your child is savvy enough to stay safe without you.

The article goes on to list some helpful, basic rules for tweens who are out on the town without mom or dad in tow.

  • Never accept a ride from a stranger or go to the parking lot with any adult other than the one designated to pick you up.
  • Take a buddy to the bathroom.
  • Have a meeting place with your friends in case someone gets separated from the group.
  • If you lose your cell, ask to use a store phone, or ask for help from a woman with children. Ross says this is the safest type of stranger to approach.
  • Call a parent or flag down a store manager if anyone hassles you or gives you the creeps.
  • Stay in a well-populated place.

Great tips, but I’m just not ready yet. How about you? Any anxieties or advice to share regarding tween trips to the mall sans grownups?

Let’s talk it out in the comment section below, moms.

Jennifer Silas August 12, 2011 at 03:17 PM
When Jordan (now 14) was about 11 we went to the mall to shop for back to school clothes, just us. Since I have another younger daughter this was a special treat. As we were walking and talking, a girl practically FELL on Jordan. Turns out she was SHOVED by a girl, for illustration purposes I have always called "Scary Spice." Scary Spice had multiple piercings, lots of make up on and tough looking boots. Seems this girl, walking with her friends and laughing and joking, had accidentally stepped on Scary's foot-or some offense like that. So Scary shoved her causing her to fall down on top of Jordan. She said something like "Don't stomp me B*****!" It was such an unexpected interruption that Jordan and I just pretty much made our way around the situation. But later we talked. I told her someday when she wants to go to the mall alone with her friends, I would say no. And I wasn't saying no because I didn't trust her, but because there are people out there like Scary Spice and I wouldn't want her to be in a situation like that where she wouldn't know what to do.
Raven Nichols August 12, 2011 at 04:02 PM
Excellent point. I never thought about other kids being a problem... I'll use Jordan as an example when Sailor inevitably uses the "everyone else is doing it" argument.
Go Go August 12, 2011 at 04:34 PM
Be carefull and stay in a group.
Tammy Haney August 12, 2011 at 05:17 PM
You are meaning the big scary mall where strangers and weirdos are looking for their next victim, I'm sorry I just can't let them. Emily is 15 and hasn't asked me. A few months ago a friend invited her to hang out at the mall, but Emily told her there is no way my mom would allow it and she didn't even ask me. She told her friend for them to pick something else. Needless to say, I did the happy dance when she talked to me about it. I just don't think young kids should hang out without parental supervision. I think there is plenty of other activities and just pondering around the mall could lead to trouble. It isn't that I don't trust my girls, I just don't trust others. It honestly scares me. Bracing myself for this day because I know it is coming way sooner than I want it. Keeping them safe and yet living a normal life is my goal. Thanks for bringing this up so I can know I'm not the overprotective crazy mama.
Bentley Parker August 12, 2011 at 08:13 PM
This is definatley a topic that needs discussing, and all too familiar at our house this summer. I have a daughter the same age, and we had an incident this summer that made me realize that many moms are on different pages concerning issues such as this, even though they may be yoiur good friends. A good friend of my daughters called and asked her to go to the movie. This is such a sweet friend, and I am good friends with her mother. I gave permission, assuming that the mother was attending the movie, as well. That was not case! The girls were dropped off at the movie, and I did not know they were alone untill after the movie was over. I think children approaching the teen years should be taught independence, and it is important for them to be rewarded by gaining some privaledges that may be out from under their parents. However, activities should be carefully considered and evaluated for safety. In my opinion, the mall is not good a choice, because there are not specific activities to do, aside from shopping, which this age rarely does without their mother. Besides, they usually would not have money to pay for purchases apart from their parents. The last time I went to our mall in Alabama, there were so many shady people that I asked the police to escort me to my car. I think there are more appropriate places for pre-teens to go without supervision, such as a school sporting event or a well populated resturant for a short meal with friends.
Agnes Nutter August 12, 2011 at 08:16 PM
Alright, I guess I'm the loosey goosey mom in the bunch. When I was 10, my mom bought me a season pass to a local amusement park and that was where I spent my summer days while she worked. My 16-year-old sister worked there, so I had someone to check in with every once in a while, but other than that I was on my own. The next year, I got the season pass when my sister wasn't working there. At age 12, I was spending summer days at amusement and water parks by myself, and it was never an issue of whether I could go to the mall by myself or with my friends. It was a matter of whether I had a ride and money to spend. At 16, my mother let me take a 2-week train tour of the northeast U.S. to visit colleges. At 18, I went to Europe for 7 weeks and traveled through 7 different countries. Alone. And I don't mean with a group without my mom. ALONE. Yes, that was almost 20 years ago, but the world is not any meaner today than it was then. We're just more frightened of it. With a cell phone and a credit card, there is no reason in the world why a 12-year-old girl with a good head on her shoulders can't conquer her town. If you're worried about other people doing something to them, don't lock them away, sign them up for martial arts or self-defense. Because a 12-year-old girl is just as capable of protecting herself against Scary Spice as a 30-year-old woman. She just needs a good plan of action and the self-confidence to carry it out, and she can get both of those from her parents.
Jennifer Silas August 13, 2011 at 01:51 AM
That is a good point. My daughter does need to know how to handle herself in that situation. Perhaps the issue is really that the girl who was shoved, was with a group of friends and being silly and wasn't respectful of where she was going and what she was doing. And she collided with the wrong person. I would be just as irresponsible if I let my daughter achieve the age of 18 and sent her off to college having never let her do anything on her own. I do let her do some things and it depends who it is with. I have let her attend a concert at the Gwinnett Arena with friends. I have let her go to the movies with friends.But I usually want her to attend at the snellville theaters, not at the Mall of GA theaters. When it comes to the first trips to the Mall I would not let her go with the friends that she gets most silly with. I would let her go with her more serious minded friends...but later still. not yet.
Jennifer Silas August 13, 2011 at 01:52 AM
I also think it depends what they are going to the mall for. Shopping for a specific dress for a homecoming dance-yes. Going to the mall to walk around because there is nothing else to do-no.
Crystal Huskey August 13, 2011 at 02:50 AM
I grew up overseas, and took a city bus to my middle school every day. I waited there by myself at the bus stop at about 6:30 a.m., then switched buses downtown, then walked about a hundred yards from the bus stop to my school. During the afternoons and summers, my brother and I rode our bikes all over creation. We were followed once, at which point we picked up pointy sticks and ran the other way. I fell once, and busted up my face. In other words, nothing awful ever happened, and yet, as a mother of two, I would never let my kids do what I did! To me, it feels like the world has gotten a lot worse. Sex trafficking in particular is worse now than it was 20 years ago. It might have to do with the fact that no one knows their neighbors anymore, so there are more strangers to fear and be suspicious of.
Agnes Nutter August 13, 2011 at 01:52 PM
What's gotten worse is that media has become a 24/7 omnipresent force of entertainment. We hear about every child -- every single child -- who is abducted in this country within minutes of it happening. We hear about most stranger assaults on children, as well. These stories fill up the 24-hour news networks, giving us the perception that it happens all the time. In reality, you're talking about *maybe* 20 cases in a year, nationwide. And most of those are abductions and assaults that end up being committed by family members. Crime and death statistics tell us our world is safer than it has been anytime in history. Sex trafficking gets more media attention, and I'm certainly not saying that is a bad thing, but in reality it is far LESS prevalent than it was thirty, fifty, or a hundred years ago. The fear we feel of letting our children walk down a city street alone is like the fear those same children feel of walking into a dark room after watching a scary movie. We're being bombarded with ghost stories, and they feel so very real.
ben gopo December 31, 2012 at 08:12 PM
Im pretty sure you guys should let your FIFTEEN year old girls go to the mall with some friends! Come on now!
Lindsay H March 10, 2014 at 03:46 PM
I let my daughter go to the movies the summer before 6th grade, walk around a shopping center in 7th and go to the mall with friends in 8th. But since our mall is farther away, I went to stores around the mall. Notice I didn't say in the mall. I didn't want to bother/embarrass her. If you know her friends and trust them, she could probably go alone with them. My daughter goes alone in stores all the time, She is almost in 9th grade now and wants to go to the mall alone.

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