In today’s print edition of our daily papers, we are running a package about young people and their behavior in malls. The stories were in response to an incident that happened at Trumbull mall where a group of teens got out of hand and a 17-year-old and 14-year-old were tased by police.
I interviewed teens and young adults at the Danbury Fair Mall, a decidedly “safe” mall. There are no gang wars, racial rivalries or indecent behaviors going on here. But I was absolutely struck by the amount of young people who came to the mall because they had nothing better to do. They were bored, they said, and the mall was the only other option. Some insinuated, off the record, that if they weren’t here, they would be drinking or getting high.
I started asking them, how do you feel, being defined as the generation that went to the mall and hung out? “Well, we would also the best looking. They had some bad hair in the seventies,” one kid responded. But another said, “that’s kinda depressing, to think of it that way.”
One solution is for towns and cities to build teen centers. (Even though in this economy, most Connecticut towns aren’t starting any new projects.) But any sort of town-sponsored teen center is inherently doomed to fail because “the cool kids” won’t go there. They have a teen center in New Canaan, and the staff there told me it was meant for older teens, but they tend to stay away, so it is more utilized by pre-teens. “Those teen centers are usually kind of tacky,” one older teen told me.
It’s very difficult for an institution to create a space and market it correctly as cool.
What I think the solution is for private entrepreneurs to provide the kinds of establishments these kids are looking for. When asked, most of them said they just wanted a place they could go hang out. Somewhere that has a lounge to relax, music, food, and an arcade with some games. Someone could open that type of lounge and market it to the 23ish crowd, and then the teens will think it’s what all the cool, older guys are doing and go there.
It’s a lucrative business. These kids were saying they spend $50 to a few hundred dollars every time they come to the mall. The most I heard was one teen who said he came and spent $1000 in a day. And they aren’t going to come and tear up the place. The teens I talked to seemed responsible. They were just bored. Teens are going to be loud and hyper, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are dangerous or destructive.
An establishment like this would also be a great way to bring some life to the downtown main streets that are suffering all over Connecticut.
So who is going to step up to the challenge?