PANAMA CITY — Not that long ago, I would have been incensed by the idea of the Panama City Mall declaring itself off-limits to teenagers on the weekend nights. Not so much any more.
And not because my attitude toward mall rats has changed over time.
In 1996, I wrote an article titled “Mall or Nothing” that appeared in our teen section.
The kids I interviewed talked about how they had nowhere else to hang out that was safe. They ate at the food court, played games in the arcade, watched movies at the discount theater, and looked for friends and fished for significant others.
They told me they were there to walk around, get numbers, play games, buy food, buy clothes and spend money. But they would prefer to go somewhere else. Just about anywhere else — but not bowling, one specified.
“All we’ve got is parking lots or the clay pits. There’s nowhere to go,” one girl said.
Yes, lots of them merely loitered. Yes, some of them sat outside and smoked. And regularly, some of them got into trouble for acting up, driving recklessly in the parking lot, shoplifting or other things.
That was fifteen years ago, admittedly, and most of the kids I talked to at the time are about to turn 30. But there still aren’t that many places for teens to go in this county. In fact, one of the big teen hangouts of the day — Miracle Strip Amusement Park — is no longer around.
Now, you can scratch the mall too — at least so far as teenagers are concerned.
As reported by Chris Segal on April 15, and covered by Meridith Kaufman on Friday, Panama City Mall has now instituted a new “escort” policy for teens that requires a parent or guardian over 21 to accompany anyone younger than 18 at all times on Fridays and Saturdays after 6 p.m.
Young people should be ready to show their ID to security guards, mall officials said. They added that the policy was enacted after feedback from parents, shoppers, retailers and “community leaders” about large groups of unaccompanied minors not adhering to the rules.
I’ve been to the mall recently. I haven’t noticed large groups of any kind. And what older folk I’ve seen there had their walking shoes on. (They weren’t shopping either.)
So watch out, Pier Park. If they aren’t there already (and we know many of them they are), they’re coming your way soon.
This is my Sunday Undercurrents column.