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Malls setting curfews for unchaperoned teens

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- It's 10 on a Friday night, and all 15-year-old Sylvia Fallon wants is to hang out with her friends at the mall.

But she will have to dodge security: Easton Town Center, like many shopping centers across the country, has a curfew for unchaperoned teenagers. Here, the witching hour is 9:30 p.m. At other malls, the curfew is as early as 6.

''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."

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," said Rob Callender, senior trends manager for Teen Research Unlimited, a marketing research firm.

Some malls set curfews after fights break 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, 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.

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 Kentucky, Ohio, 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 3 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."

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 cellphone store.

''There's a lot of loitering, and cellphones 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 -- Sarah Creelman, 15, for one -- say they are not bothered by the curfew.

''It's fair enough," she said, ''because most parents want you home at a certain time anyway."

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