How Old Should a Child Be to Be Dropped Off at the Mall Alone?

Portrait of a teenage girl holding a mobile phone in a shopping mall
Many states have a minimum age law that dictates when children can be in the mall alone. (Image: Jack Hollingsworth/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

If your child asks to go the mall alone, your thoughts might turn to child abductions, shoplifting and other mischief. You are not completely out of line if you refuse to let your child hang out in the mall by herself, but your child will reach an age when it is fine for her shop alone. However, if she is not old enough to drive herself yet, think long and hard before you make your final decision.

Parental Responsibilities

Mall security is not responsible for your child's safety and behavior at the mall. You, as the parent, are the responsible party. Before you even think about letting your child go the mall alone, you need to consider the potential dangers associated with doing so. Even older children are at risk for abduction or assault, including sexual assault, by a child predator. You also need to think about security at the mall. Learn whether there are security officers that your child can approach if she feels that she is in danger. Think about the parking lot and whether it is well lit or whether it is behind the mall, where no one will see your child arriving or leaving. Ultimately, your job is to assess the safety of the situation and make your decision from there.

Appropriate Age

At what age should you allow your child to go to the mall alone? That depends on several factors. First, is the law in your state. Some states, such as Minnesota and Delaware, do not permit children under 16 to be in certain malls without adult supervision. If that is the case where you live, then you simply cannot allow a younger child to shop alone, since you will be in trouble if your child is caught. In 2007, a Montana mom was arrested for dropping off at a mall her 12-year-old- daughter and another 12-year-old-girl who were both in charge of three younger children, to shop without adult supervision. Even if your child is legally old enough to go the mall without an adult, it does not mean you should let him go. If he tells you where he is going, gets home by curfew, is dependable, then he might be able to handle the privilege of going to the mall without you.

Rules and Guidelines

Ultimately, if you decide that your teen is old enough and responsible enough to shop alone, make sure your teen knows the rules associated with the privilege. Remind her to drive straight to the mall, park near the door and go inside, immediately. Instruct her to stay away from strangers and to be aware of her surroundings. You might ask her to call or text you when she arrives, so that you know she is safe. You might ask her to check in periodically while she is at the mall, too. Enforce the rule that your teen is never to leave the mall with anyone else.

Considerations

If your gut tells you to allow your child independence, but you do not feel comfortable letting him go the mall alone, consider tagging along, the HealthyChildren website recommends. You do not have to your child's hand, but stay close by. In other words, keep your child within your line of sight, but allow him to enter stores alone. Perhaps you could sit on a bench and read a book or use your smart phone or your laptop computer. Tell your child that you will be around, so that he knows you are monitoring his behavior. As your child demonstrates responsibility, you can gradually allow him longer periods on his own until he is old enough to drive himself or take public transportation to the mall, according to HealthyChildren.org.

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