Recently, two teenaged boys, who were about to enter Express Avenue Mall, were stopped by the security staff. “Sorry, not allowed,” he told them. Perplexed, the uniform-clad students asked him why. “We don't allow students in uniform to come into the mall during school hours,” he said.
The boys, from Wesley School right across the road, said they had finished an examination and came there only to have lunch. “We don't have classes in the afternoon and that's why we came here,” said one of the boys. After some arguing and persuading, the boys were let in.
Security staff said they had been instructed not to allow school students in uniform into the mall. The rule is purely a CSR-like initiative, says C.V. Sridhar, head of security.
“It is only in the interest of the students' safety. If schools or organisations want to bring children, we go out of our way to give them a guided tour of the mall, with two or three additional security staff to monitor the children while they use the escalator or elevator,” he said.
It is a useful practice, says R. Kayalvizhi, mother of a class VIII student. “I do not think it is safe for my son and his friends go out alone. We send him if any of the parents escort them. In fact, it would be nice if malls can generally have security staff monitor whether children are safe while in the mall,” she said.
While some parents like her feel the mall is justified from a ‘students' safety' perspective, others wonder if it borders on discrimination. President of Wesley School N. Vijayan said: “We have not complained to them about our boys whiling away time at the mall or any such thing. They could allow students who may simply go there to eat something,” he said.
However, a few other malls feel that with changing times, even school children “hang out” in groups and choose malls, particularly in the summer. Alsa Mall manager J. Israel Stalin said: “We don't really mind if school students come and spend time at our mall. These days, you do find students going out for a meal or a movie in groups. As long as they are in safe company, it shouldn't matter.”
Students, too, feel that they are responsible enough to take good care of themselves. Shreya Murali, a class XII student, said this generation of students has been moulded to be independent. “Look at the pressure we face, it is incredible. We need to take a break on and off and be with friends at coffee shops or malls. Our parents trust us and with mobile phones, we are accessible all the time,” she said.