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Commentary: Walden Galleria Discriminates Against Teens

By Lucinda Ingalls

Buffalo, NY – Editor's Note: The commentary as aired on WBFO was edited because of time constraints. Below is the complete version, as orginally submitted by the writer.

I remember a few years ago, being asked to sign a petition boycotting the Walden Galleria because of proposed policy, appearing to once again discriminate against "those people" whose geographical/socio-economic status was different than those being cultivated for shopping at the Galleria. I remember signing it, feeling conflicted knowing it admittedly wouldn't be a big sacrifice because I rarely shop there. I also felt as though if the policy was allowed to be implemented, surely well behaved kids wouldn't be profiled at the mall. I really thought it had gone away because on its face, it was so discriminatory and surely the public would rail at excluding kids from shopping at the mall. Wrong.

Friday afternoon, fresh from the winter concert at school, our son and his buddy went with me to the Walden Galleria for our annual get-it-over trip to the Galleria. We parked by Bon-Ton around 3:30pm and entered through the store and then into the mall. We stopped at The Apple Store together, then I went on to Pottery Barn, J JILL and William Sonoma while Will and Harry happily went to the Starbucks Kiosk and the Discovery Store. We had agreed to meet at Radio Shack by 4:30pm.

While walking between stores, the boys were apprehended, detained against their will and escorted through the mall by uniformed, walky-talky, code-yakking security guards to a room by the bathrooms upstairs. To anyone witnessing, this scene appeared an apprehension for cause. They were questioned and told if they ever came back they would be arrested for trespassing. Then when collectively three of the "grown-ups" figured out how to use the phone, I was finally called. It was 4:15pm when the security officer told me he was detaining the boys in a security room upstairs, because, in essence, they were shopping while 13 years of age. No bad behavior: no inappropriate language; no shop-lifting. Just two kids getting a little shopping done, at four o'clock in the afternoon, a week before Christmas.

We spent the next hour returning our many hundreds of dollars worth of stuff (and I was just getting warmed up) including the gifts the boys had been allowed to buy, regardless of their age and escort. We left, empty handed, never, and while you should never say never, NEVER to return.

Ironically, I probably wouldn't have let him shop totally independently at the mall. I tend to be a little weird about large crowds and my fear of kids getting lured into unsavory situations. I know he's thirteen but he's still my youngest kid. The last thing I would have worried about is the thought that he would be unwelcome...anywhere. No signage anywhere outside the Bon Ton or the entrance from the store into the mall. As a matter of fact I saw no signage anywhere within the mall areas I traveled that indicated a policy of age discrimination. The first information I saw was being handed out by a huddled gaggle of uniformed guards near the food court as we left the detainment center they call a community room.

I feel as though this is a moment in my child's life where he, for the first time felt powerless. A profound loss of innocence. "What exactly are my rights," he asked "Did I have to give them information about myself?" While perhaps this is a luxury of the white middle-class, it feels like such a sucker punch by a big stupid bully. And what purpose did it serve? Only a benchmark of impotence in his adolescence and I have never, as a mother, felt quite as sad.

We as a culture have grown to hold children in such contempt...God help us as we age.

In retelling this story I am struck by the numbers of people who really believe it is OK to exclude entire segments of our population because of fear. They site the notion that adolescents are to be feared because of language or shear volume in congregated numbers. These kids are being raised by us. Have we given up on an entire generation of kids simply because they reach an age of independence? Are these kids the same kids who could be defending our country that can't shop at the mall without a parent? Does the mall have a policy that disallows kids at the age of 16 to work or do their parents have to come with them? Why couldn't the scores of tripping-over-themselves security officers actually apprehend problem-makers rather than kids doing the right thing, at the right time? What's next? Excluding people over the age of 65 from driving because they have more car accidents... You know it could happen because those 13 year olds will be calling the shots in a decade or so and there will be fewer of them making the decisions -- and more of us being affected.

While this thing has cast a pall on our holiday, the good news is we became more knowledgeable with the depth of stock at Target and the Albright Knox Art Gallery gift shop, Hertel Avenue and Elmwood. Bravo Buffalo. But the biggest gift I will give this year is one we'll give our son, the gift of knowing that he is truly valued as a human being: that when he's right, no one will defend him more vigorously.

And, I resolve in the New Year to being much more attentive to ways in which we safeguard the rights of all kids.

Lucinda Ingalls is the executive director of MUSE, a non-profit arts-in-education program serving kids in WNY and the very proud mother of two sons.