What to Say to Your Teenager Before Dropping Them at the Mall

It’s summer, and with your teenager out of school, they have more free time on their hands. Sure, they might have a job, a summer reading list, college applications to get a jump on, or a camp to attend, but the likelihood is, you are going to see your teens shopping, whether alone or with their friends, but potentially NOT with their parents.

Have you ever discussed how to purchase things with your kids? Probably not – which is perfectly normal. We assume that by modeling good behavior, our kids pick up on it. But the kids of this era are busier than ever, which means that they have had fewer chances to observe you, and some kids had their noses buried in their phones the entire time. No, they did not observe you exhibiting the golden rules of commerce, so before you drop them at the mall, here are my four rules to go over before you send your teens shopping.

1.Ask for Help

“Excuse me, can you help me find something?” No retail worker will say no to that, meaning your son or daughter actually finds the book on their summer reading list or the birthday gift they were sent to fetch for their brother. You may find it hard to believe, but some teenagers would rather wander aimlessly, waiting for something to jump off a shelf and hit them. If it doesn’t , instead of asking for help, they will leave the store, go home, and tell you they couldn’t find it, thereby making it your problem. There’s an easy way to prevent that from happening.  If they can do it with manners, it will go much better for them.

2. Do not talk on your phone when it’s time to purchase something.

Why, they will ask? Aside from the basic ‘It’s incredibly rude’, the cashier may actually have to ask you questions or have helpful information. Do you need a gift receipt? Do you need this gift wrapped? Did you mean to get two? Did you know these were buy one get one free? Or even better, your teenager could just practice their people skills by saying ‘hello, how are you’, and treating the person helping them like a human. This goes for adults too.

3. Handle cash with respect.

Retail and food workers see all manner of behavior with money. Your fast food workers have rigorous rules and standards about when to wash their hands, how to touch the food they are preparing and handing to your teenager, so if aforementioned teen reaches into their sock, pulls out a sweaty $20 bill and tosses it on the counter in a crumpled, sweaty wad (I have seen it happen, and it is one of the top three reasons why retail and food service personnel do not enjoy their interactions with teenagers) how do you think they will feel? Chances are, your child will get a similar job some day and have it happen to them. Some learn from that, some don’t , so parental prevention here is a kindness.

By that token, wadded up cash – even from a purse or wallet – or cash tossed on the counter as someone ignores the cashier’s outstretched hand –is also a travesty.  If someone has to pay for $9 worth of product with spare change (happens all the time, trust me) apologies and requests for patience are very nice.

In short, try to get into a scenario with your teen where you make them pay and see what happens. It can be an eye opening experience.

4. Pay attention to your surroundings.

Sometimes this is your teen’s first outing with another friend, or better yet, a group of friends. They aren’t exactly alone, but they don’t have an adult with them, and they had no idea how helpful that was. They aren’t used to being aware of creepy people or someone following them in hopes they will put their purse down for a second (and unless you made them pay for their purse or phone themselves, statistically, they are going to be less careful with their possessions).  Asking them to be aware – all the time – in a public setting is simply making them a safer and better citizen. You can decide when to broach the subject of ‘If you see something, say something’ campaigns and the discussion about terrorism, but general awareness benefits everyone.


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