The title of this post is a question that has been on my mind since before I had kids, when I first moved to this suburb almost 19 years ago and was surprised at how early the “sidewalks rolled up” around here. Whenever Andy and I were out for the evening and wanted a late night dinner or snack, we were hard-pressed to find any eating establishments open past 9 p.m. And sometimes when we’d head to a little mom and pop restaurant in the neighborhood for an 8 o’clock dinner, by 8:15 we’d be the only patrons there, and even though their closing time was posted as 9, mom and pop would literally sit at a table near the kitchen, turn their chairs in our direction and stare at us until we finished, as if they were saying, ‘hurry up, we want to go home.’ It was weird, not to mention a little creepy (but their food was good, so we kept going back). I thought of area teens. ‘Where do they go?’ I wondered.
This question has come up again these past couple of weeks, as both my girls have been spending more and more time out of the house on weekend evenings, with friends. During that time, Northpark Mall, arguably the nicest, classiest mall in the entire Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex and the mall of choice for many kids in our community, announced that from now on, anyone 17 and younger cannot be at the mall after 6 p.m. unless accompanied by a parent. Minors are allowed to be there unaccompanied only if they are going to and from the mall movie theater, and they can only enter and exit through a specific door. Though neither of my girls said they’ve seen teens causing trouble at the mall in the evening, my first thought was that this new rule is no big deal, but then I stepped back and looked at the reality of our bigger picture in North Texas and I didn’t like it at all.
If kids can only go to movies and can’t hang out strolling at the mall afterwards, where else can they go? To a local restaurant, like we did when I was a teen? Well, even though that afore-mentioned mom, pop and their restaurant are long gone, and restaurant hours in our suburb have improved a bit, there are still quite a few “early closings”, and choices narrow down drastically after 10. What about a bowling alley/laser tag center? Or a “jump town” (trampoline fun centers that are increasing in popularity)? These are great for younger teens, but the older teens have “been there, done that”.
There is the “teen rave club” I read about in the local news…but you would NEVER want your teen to be there, a “girls gone wild” atmosphere where drugs and alcohol flow freely to minors… and, since our suburb includes a university with a large international population, there are also several hookah restaurant/lounges, places where patrons sit around tables with a communal water pipe in the center, filling their lungs with smoke from flavored tobacco, puffed through one of the water pipe’s many tentacles…. A recent news story in the Dallas Morning News showed that while minors are admitted to hookah lounges, they aren’t supposed to be allowed to smoke, although it’s possible that some do. But even if they don’t, who would want their teen to be in a SMOKING lounge inhaling second hand smoke anyway?? But the lounges stay open until 2 a.m., hours that have no doubt fueled their increasing popularity.
Should teens just gather at someone’s house? If that can be a house with adult supervision and safe, fun, legal things to do, great—but too often, that’s not the case. Private homes seem to be the location of some of the worst trouble that kids find themselves in—think about kids recently busted for alcohol possession in our community, or the teenage son of major league outfielder Torii Hunter who recently made the news for a rape allegation. Where were they when their alleged crimes occurred? At someone’s house, right here in North Texas. At a house where either parents weren’t home, or parents were home and were encouraging the partying, or they were looking the other way and not staying on top of things.
The bottom line is, teens, especially older teens, need a place to go at night on weekends, without Mom and Dad at their side. A place that’s away from home. A place where they can “see and be seen”. Because the need to “hang out” with peers away from home is in our DNA; it’s part of the necessary transition from childhood to adulthood that has long been present in our history, from barn dances to soda shops to driving endlessly up and down certain streets to walking the malls. Even in this age of technology-loving, socially-impaired couch potatoes, teens still like to gather. They need to gather. College should not be the first time they learn what it’s like to “go out” on their own.
But the more we as a society restrict teens from feeling welcome at “decent” places, the more they will go to places that aren’t so decent, or safe.