The mall offers lessons for teens, not just shopping and junk food

    In this fourth of eight excerpts from parenting guide Letting Go with Love and Confidence: The mall offers some benefits for your adolescent by providing a place for kids to expand their horizons in a situation that’s loose but not without rules.

    Part five of eight.

    Excerpted from the new book Letting Go with Love and Confidence.

    Go to the mall and look around. Linger in the stores that are a magnet for young people and watch the shoppers frenetically going through the racks and bins. Check out the mannequins and posters of models—rail-thin women with well-placed curves, and young men with glistening abs and jeans slung low. Take in the flashing lights, pulsating music and store clerks wearing headsets as if they’re directing planes to land. Stroll around and see the clusters of teens trying to look nonchalant as they check out the other kids going by, but can’t quite hide their anxiousness.

    Doing some observing at the mall will help you identify what your child will encounter. Despite the sensory overload, the mall does offer some benefits for your adolescent. It provides a spot for kids to expand their horizons outside of parental supervision in a situation that’s somewhat loose, but not devoid of rules and expectations for behavior.

    The key is to prepare your child by phasing in this privilege step by step:

    When you take your school-aged child shopping, start to talk about money, marketing, public behavior, and the importance of treating clerks and other shoppers with respect.

    Right before adolescence, encourage your child to invite friends along on shopping trips to get a sense of how they behave together.

    When you get comfortable that your adolescent can handle more freedom, allow him and a friend to go ahead, but keep them in sight.

    Next, accompany them to the mall, but go off on your own. Have your adolescent check in by cell phone at a designated time.

    Eventually, start to drop off and pick her up at a pre-arranged place and time, preferably during the daytime for two to three hours at most.

    Your teen can begin to take public transportation to the mall if that’s an option.

    Specific Points To Focus On

    Public behavior. Kids need to learn to conduct themselves in a public space. That means no shoving, blocking walkways or cursing.

    Shopping etiquette. Young shoppers should be expected to put merchandise back where they found it, stand patiently in line at the register, and say please and thank you to clerks.

    Shoplifting. Adolescents might not plan to shoplift, but can fall into it to impress their friends or because they don’t feel like waiting to pay. Your child has to understand that shoplifting is a crime, and that he should remove himself from a group if he suspects someone of stealing.

    Money smarts. Your adolescent should be able to calculate discounts and read the fine print on sale signs to recognize gimmicks.

    Marketing awareness. Stores use all sorts of tricks—lighting, color, smells, seductive words—to reel in shoppers. Sex particularly sells when it comes to adolescents, and it is often presented under the guise of health and fitness.

    Body image. At the mall, kids see mannequins shaped unlike real human beings and racks of clothes where Size 0 is a choice. Don’t play into this distorted sense of normal by saying, “You look thin in that,” or “It will fit perfectly if you lose a few pounds.”

    Discussion Points: Do you allow your adolescent to go to the mall with friends? Has it been a good experience?

    —Excerpted with permission and edited from Letting Go with Love and Confidence: Raising Responsible, Resilient, Self-Sufficient Teens in the 21st Century (Avery, 2011).

    In September and October, NewsWorks is presenting a series of eight excerpts from the new book, Letting Go with Love and Confidence. Here is a schedule for the rest of the series.

    When is my child ready to stay out late or stretch a curfew? Monday, Sept. 26

    How do I talk about:

    Success? Thursday, Sept. 29
    Sex? Monday, Oct. 3

    Ginsburg_77x77Kenneth Ginsburg, M.D., M.S.Ed., is a pediatrician and researcher specializing in adolescent medicine at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Regularly voted a “Top Doc” by Philadelphia magazine, he also serves homeless and marginalized youth as the Director of Health Services at Covenant House Pennsylvania. He talks around the country on the importance of cultivating resilience in children so that they can thrive in a complex world. He is an advisor to the U.S. military, providing strategies to help families cope with a loved one’s deployment. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and two teenage daughters.

    Fitzgerald_77x77Susan FitzGerald is an award-winning journalist with a specialty in children’s health issues. A former staff writer and editor for The Philadelphia Inquirer, she now works as an independent writer and editor and teaches health writing in the graduate Writing Studies Program at St. Joseph’s University. She and her husband have three sons.

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