Mom, May I Go To The Mall?

by Vered DeLeeuw · 12 comments

When your preteen daughter asks you if she may go to the mall with her friends, there are two possible answers.

Possible answer #1: “Of course you may, honey! Have fun!”

Possible answer #2: “No way! I don’t want you to develop the bad habit of recreational shopping.”


I did let her go last time I was faced with this situation, and I ended up chaperoning too. At 11 years old, they’re a bit too young to go to the mall all by themselves, but the dilemma is still there. How do I instill values of financial responsibility and frugality, when “hanging out at the mall” is such a huge part of teen girls’ social scene?

Shopping is pleasurable – I think we can all agree on that (at least the females can!) One of my strongest memories as a teenager is looking at a pile of new clothes I just bought, neatly folded in my closet, and feeling a sense of sweet anticipation – oh, how fun it will be to wear these clothes!

Of course, you quickly learn that any pleasure brought on by shopping is extremely short-lived. You revel in your new possessions for a few days, maybe a few weeks, but once the novelty rubs off, the excitement is over. Time for a new shopping trip? Yes, if you’re addicted to shopping. But our goal – mine and certainly yours if you’re reading this blog – is to avoid becoming addicted to shopping, or to stuff in general, because it’s such a huge waste of money.

I used to be addicted to shopping. Perhaps “addicted” is a strong word, but I definitely had the bad habit of logging onto my favorite online fashion outlet ( every morning to see if they have added any new items. Of course, once you’re in the habit of checking for new arrivals whether you need clothes or not, you will end up buying much more than you need – and you will also pay hundreds of dollars in shipping, annually.

David’s Note: I’m glad Vered got out of her ritual of checking the same website for new arrivals daily, but make no mistake, addiction was the perfect word to describe that behavior. If you do something remotely similar, you suffer from addiction as well. It’s of course a personal choice after all, but know that this is unhealthy mentally and financially.

It took me several months, a few years ago, to finally wean myself off the habit of recreational shopping. And now I am facing the challenge of making sure my daughter does not develop this habit in the first place.

We certainly live in a culture that pushes us to spend. Brands spend millions of advertising dollars on getting us to buy their products, whether we need to or not. We are told that if we only buy their stuff, we will look better, feel better, and become happier. We are taught to consume from a very young age. And when we become teens, the pressure is stronger than ever. Now, if you don’t consume and display top brands, you risk being labeled as uncool.

So what is a mother to do? I wish I had a clear answer to this one, but I’m not sure how to handle it. I would love your input – whether you are a parent or not, I’m sure you can offer a helpful perspective. Should I attempt to teach my kids that recreational shopping is a bad idea, or should I just let them be teenagers for now, and deal with the consequences later?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Nessa K says:

    Shopping can be a fun social activity – no reason to make this into a huge social issue. Kids need to be taught how to be responsible for their actions. If they have to earn their spending money and then are responsible for the consequences. Don’t “let them off the hook” by fixing whatever mistake they make.

  • Mrsli says:

    My daughter is 14 and she and her friends are just starting to be interested in hanging out at the mall. For them though, the fun is walking around and window shopping. My daughter never has more than $10 or so of her own hard earned money on her. It’s enough to buy a snack and maybe something small. Her friends are the same. I know of some friends in other cities though who send their kids to the mall with $100. I think money burning a hole in their pocket encourages them to spend it on things they don’t need, whereas if my daughter does see something she likes, she has to wait and earn money and decide if at that time it’s still important enough to spend money on.

  • Squirrelers says:

    My daughter is not yet at the pre-teen stage, but I see the mall interest already. I think it’s important to avoid the “here’s $50, go have fun” mentality that some parents seem to have when it comes to teenage daughters and malls. Shopping is a need, not a form of entertainment – though, as a guy, I was clearly never a teenage girl so I can admit that maybe there’s something I’m not getting about the fun part of it.

    Anyway, my plan is provide a budget/allowance during pre-teen years and that will be it. She’ll learn the values of delayed gratification, saving for a purpose AND for old age, and the value of hard work – through employement. It’s funny how money can seem much more valuable when you understand how hard it can be to earn it!

  • JR says:

    Thanks for the insight, but please don’t gender stereotype…not all women love the mall- I actually join a few others here as a loather!
    Anyway, also thanks to David for pointing out that recreational shopping, either on-line or at “the mall” is a bad habit, or worse, an addiction if not tended to properly. Like any unhealthy habit it can lead to stress, poor health (financial and other) plus seriously hurt others in your life (now or later).
    I find it refreshing to hear that people want to parent with responsibility in mind…GO ahead, say “no” after all as the adult you have earned the right of experience & understanding. This age group-discussion deserves an explanation becausee this could be serious like a drug-yep, really. Tell them, “You don’t need to spend money just because you have it even if you EARNED all of it yourself. This behavior can cause serious issues later for many reasons. Learn something new, go to the library, gym, walk the dogs or go to a local event. Host your own movie-night or dance party with friends, paint pottery or a canvas, learn an instrument! Be creative, use your talents-find a passion.” – that’s what our children need to hear over-and over- and over again.
    We are in charge of our behaviors, spending money & feeling GOOD BECAUSE we have NEW cloths to wear should NEVER be the point of your favorite pass time- special occasions, sure, enjoy the awesome feeling of your sweet ‘girl power’ – weekend with nothing better to do, really?

  • Erin says:

    I have a few thoughts, on different aspects of this question.

    My first thought, is why do they want to hang at the mall. Find the why to this question and adress that. If it is simply a place to feel ‘grown up’ and like they aren’t constantly being watched, find other places they can do this. Take them on a putter-golf outing, roller skating or teach them Frisbee golf. Give them a place and an activity where you can keep an eye on them, but not be directly engaged with them. They are at an age where they want to start having some freedoms, let them have it in a controlled environment. The Mall is an ‘easy’ place to do this, give them some other places and ideas to think of when they want to have time together that isn’t directly watched over by MOM.

    On to my other thought. If she really is into shopping, make her earn all of her spending money for things she wants. It is one thing to buy her close to start school, or because she has outgrown things, but don’t buy her too much of just what she wants. Make her work and earn that money…all of that money. If she really wants it, she will work for it, save for it and wait for it to go on Sale. (just like a grown up!) If she isn’t that motivated then she get along without it and discover she didn’t really need it in the first place.

    Some might think that this is a bit tough for an 11 year old, but really I don’t think we can start too young teaching our children how to survive in the grown up world. We do our kids a disservice when we don’t teach them that hard work is the way to get the things we want. Nothing is handed to us when we grown up, why should we be taught that a little look or whining will get us what we want. This is even more important for girls…we need to know we can stand on our own two feet and get what we want with work, and not batting our lashes at a boy.

    Thats my $.25 on the matter 😉


  • guest in ca says:

    We ended up moving to a small town with no mall at the age my daughter was starting to want to go hang out. A lot of malls these days won’t allow groups of teens unchaperoned, but I agree with the others that in cities the teens use it as a place to see & be seen, not for recreational shopping. Back in the day, we didn’t have malls to hang out in & managed to see our friends anyway.

    When we moved, my daughter was totally appalled that there was no mall, but once she got over the shock she found friends she could do other things with. And our house became her group’s main hang-out place (they’d bring their own snacks, and couldn’t be there if a parent wasn’t around) which worked out very well for everyone. And, 15 years later she still isn’t into recreational shopping.

  • Amy Saves says:

    my daughter is 10 and still hasn’t developed the shopping addiction yet. she does earn an allowance and is pretty good with her money. she knows that if she wants to spend it, she needs to figure out if it’s worth the price.

    however, we are big fans of pedicures. every 2-3 weeks!

  • Patricia says:

    I had /have problems with one child who was addicted to new clothes – It was to cover up her cleft palate and draw attention to her total beauty package. She often went to the mall on her own or from a friend’s house and they just wandered around. She was a master at getting others to buy her things. Several clerks began to recognize her, as did one teacher, and a bank teller. Her friend stole our savings account numbers and by taking a debit card, her friend wiped out our savings account…..We had to hire private detectives….and work with these three kind folks to keep our eye on her. Our mall is very small, and yet several high school girls were lining up others for prostitution –

    The Mall is a place to shop for specific items – even in winter it is not a place to hang out… It is far to dangerous.

    Shopping addiction is a huge problem in the USA and especially for confused young girls
    Not only did my children have music lessons, sports, we added fun youth group meetings where we talked about being female or male…menstruation, parenting, the meaning of life, how to conflict to resolution, but we also gave our kids theater opportunities ( singing, acting and set building) and our personal favorite a Mother and Daughter book group. We designed and built our own Scout troop ( called Adventure club) and the kids designed their own T shirts and we did things that the parents found as fun to be involved in as the kids.

    2 of my children have found Martial Arts knowledge to be to their advantage.

    I have had to learn to like shopping and I make that part of the fun of visiting my youngest child now because she likes shopping so much – we are working on adding learning to save too – the balancing act

    The Mall is just too dangerous and the hanging out that is done…and needed we did by having slumber parties with themes….we hired a professional make up artist to come to one…mom’s left and they all learned about healthy skin and how to practice the art of make up. ( one friend is now a fashion designer!)

    there are just so many positive ways to achieve the hanging out time together and kids that don’t want the experience at YOUR house…well they just might not be the peer group a mom would want…

  • marci357 says:

    Nice thing about rural life – there are NO malls 🙂

  • Ginger says:

    As teenagers my friends and I used to the mall the “hang out” away from parents but not have to spend money such as if we went to a restaurant or movie. Some ideas that could keep her from the mall is finding other “free” places for her to go, park etc. This does not help in the winter but I still don’t know where to hang out outside of the house. It just is my house now so I invite people over instead.

  • KM says:

    I don’t think shopping is pleasurable. I loathe going to the store because I know how difficult it is to find what I need and I dread going through the process again (I have been looking for sunglasses for months now and getting really tired of not being able to find the ones I need from trying on probably thousands). Sure, a new dress is fun, but getting it is not. I also really dislike malls because of their atmosphere and how people go there to hang out rather than get something they need and get out. That’s why I am thankful I have a son – it’s a lot easier to get boys interested in other things, like sports.

  • DIY Investor says:

    Fill day with other activities? My kids never had the shopping “addiction” problem. Maybe because my wife and I don’t. The kids all played sports and didn’t have a lot of time to spend at the mall. Playing sports and taking music lessons has the added advantage of getting good friends for kids.
    Your post discusses a really important issue.

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