Socializing in the Theatre Plaza

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:45

    SPARTA-It's 7, 8, 9 and 10 p.m., do you know where your Sparta kids are? It's possible they're hanging out at the various businesses in the Theatre Plaza. On any given Friday or Saturday night, the CVS store, the bowling alley, the theatre and Frank's Pizzeria looks something like a crowded middle school bus stop. Patrons often find that just getting through the doors can be a precarious feat while making their way through the sea of ‘tweenagers standing at the store fronts. Often the youth are skateboarding, physically horsing around, running in and out of the businesses, sometimes buying items and other times just socializing with friends and talking on cell phones. Some appear oblivious to the patrons coming and going. "To some patrons, the groups outside of the stores and restaurants are intimidating. It's not right that people can't get through the entrance without being inconvenienced," said Sergeant Russell Smith, of the Sparta Police Department. Most stores report that many of the teens do in fact spend money in their establishments. Storeowners and managers admit that because the teens and their parents are customers, the situation on the weekends becomes an awkward one to handle. For the same reason, business owners interviewed for this article requested that their names not be printed. Storeowners explained that some of the teens' behavior and foul language sometimes forces stores to ask them to leave. Sporadically business owners are forced to call the police for assistance in breaking up an unruly group who refuses to move on. However, when a police car is spotted, the business owners contend, the group flees immediately. "Driving into the parking lot, it looks like bees swarming around, with all the kids running here and there. I was very surprised. I don't think any of them is looking to get in trouble, or start any trouble, they're just socializing before, during, or after their night out," said Sparta mother who asked not be named. "I'll admit I got caught up in it like many parents do - You drop off your child and a few friends at the movies or to get a bite to eat, only to realize that many of their friends are doing the same thing. Before you know it, three turns into nine and now instead of a few friends they're a large group, and that is when the problems can start." According to Sergeant Russell Smith, the problem may rooted on the fact that the area has very little to offer in the way entertainment and socializing for young people. "The movie or bowling may be over and they think its too early to go home. None of them are old enough to drive, since these kids are middle school aged, so they‘re waiting to get picked up by their parents," said Smith. The sergeant explained that parents may not be fully aware of the amount of idle time their kids have before or after the planned event, this extended time spent in the plaza may turn into loitering. "Although it's typical behavior for kids this age, it's just a matter of time before criminal mischief becomes an issue, we see it all the time," Smith said. Psychologist, Dr Pierce Skinner of Sparta, explained that such gatherings are normal for people that age, but agrees with Sergeant Smith that there is a propensity for mischief. "Younger teenagers are typically just being given permission to venture out down town at night, it is new to them and they are learning to behave appropriately in the community. However, the hormonal storm of puberty creates a challenge for the conscious mind to control. The instincts induce great energy that propels the teenager into action that can be selfishly oriented. If cognitive development is lagging in the area of self control, there can be a lack of awareness, concern and consideration for others, which can lead to disrespectful behavior and violation of social mores," he said. Smith is calling on parents, business owners and teens, to work together to find common ground. "To curb this behavior parents need to become more vigilant and know exactly what their kids are doing. They need to tell their kids not to hang around these locations because ultimately the parents will be responsible for any damage and restitution caused by their child's behavior. In the long run, it's going to cost them both, the parents and the kids," said Smith