I have been on spring break and just getting back on track with my writing. Over the past few weeks I have received emails and messages about topics to address and questions to answer… thank you! This week I will respond to the parent who asked about when it is okay to let kids go to mall with just friends. As you all know, disclaimer up front, there is no absolute right answer about this but I will use one of my client sessions to highlight how I have helped many families navigate these types of parenting decisions.
When is it okay to let my kid go to the mall with friends?
Caroline and her dad came to my office last year armed with a question to ask. They said they wanted a professional opinion as they could not agree on how to handle the growing freedom that Caroline was wanting. Caroline was midway through her 7th grade year when her friends were starting to go to the mall without their parents. Caroline’s dad thought this was too young, his daughter was 13 and so were most of the other girls. Caroline felt she was ready, responsible and armed with a phone in case anything happened she argued she could simply call her parents.
This one pulled at my maternal heartstrings. The mall, alone, already? We were going to have to really talk about this…
The first thing I had dad do was share his fears. I told him to just go ahead and say them, in no particular order, rational or irrational, just dump them out. He said things about his fear of strange boys or men approaching his daughter, sex trafficking, a mass shooting occurring, shoplifting, spending too much money, eating a bunch of junk food, and spending money on silly things. Okay, fair list of concerns, what would Caroline say?
I asked Caroline what her fear was if she was not able to go to the mall with just friends and also what made her ready and responsible. She argued that she was a good student, never really got in trouble, had a nice group of friends. She feared that if she didn’t get to go she would start missing out on social time and that middle school was hard enough as it was, she needed her friends.
The conversation went well and as they both spoke I took notes on ideas that I thought may make this go well for both dad and daughter. Here is a list of ideas that we discussed and implemented so that Caroline could start spending some free time with friends in an unsupervised public area.
- The minimum group size was four kids. This rule was put in place so that if someone had to go to the bathroom or a different area they had a buddy at all times. No one was to ever be alone.
- Caroline could carry no more than $20.00 in cash. If she wanted to purchase something, she had to discuss how much she could spend ahead of time with her dad and use his debit card.
- Caroline had to agree to stay inside the mall the whole time. She would have to be clear with her friends about that ahead of time and be sure they were agreeable to this.
- The first couple of times that Caroline and her friends went to the mall a parent stayed but not with them. The girls were okay with that idea especially once they experienced that the parent was not secretly following them!
- Caroline checked in at least once through text while at the mall. They started off with just two hours and eventually went up to three hours hanging out at the mall.
Last, this gave dad the opportunity to discuss what sex trafficking was with his daughter. While it was an uncomfortable conversation, Caroline’s dad felt he had to make her aware of the harsh realities that exist and why, in part, he was feeling so protective. Setting the tone for limits and boundaries set Caroline up for success. I am a proponent of starting off with clear boundaries- you can always loosen them but once you do it’s hard to go back- so starting off that way sets everyone up to succeed.