Special Rules for Teenagers?

Many of us enjoy eating at Chick-fil-A restaurants. I’ve always appreciated the environment and the service-oriented staff that clearly are trained to be courteous to their clients. I think this is evident when we see vehicles backed up at a neighborhood Chick-fil-A during meal times to get their food and their service. 

I found it interesting that in Royersford, Pa. a Chick-fil-A has just set new rules regarding teenagers under the age of 16 who visit their restaurants. Unfortunately, they have had an occurrence of teenagers coming into their store who engaged in loud conversations with “a lot of explicit language,” cursed at and mocked staff, vandalized property, stole decor and walked through the drive-thru lanes.

In order to protect their staff and clients and create a safer store environment, this Chick-fil-A store has created a new policy that teenagers under the age of 16 must have adult supervision or are only allowed to order take-out. The store was clear that it was not condemning all teenagers and are not blaming their parents but felt they had to enforce the policy for the best interest of their customers and staff.

I find these situations to be unfortunate. On the one hand these kinds of rules indict all teenagers who already have a lot of labels placed on them. It is almost as if they are judged and blamed just because of their age and what their peers may have done. On the other hand it is difficult to maintain a safe environment when impulsive and destructive individuals come into an environment and create the kind of chaos that this establishment experienced while trying to create a safe family environment.

So many teenagers are respectful, sensitive of their impact and try to be compliant to our societal rules. I hate that they have to be labelled or judged by our society. I think we need to be much more intentional to affirm those teenagers for their good level of responsibility that is often unnoticed. Developmentally they can be impulsive, follow their peers and lack judgement. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are intentionally trying to be disrespectful.

I also know teenagers who struggle with their behavior. Many have had their own version of trauma or family dysfunction to deal with. At a vulnerable developmental age and stage they can make very poor decisions based on anger, rebellion and anxiety that are not appropriate. This sometimes causes incidences like happened at Chic-fil-A that is perceived as disruptive and disrespectful.

There are a few teenagers who travel with a peer group that reinforces behavior that breaks boundaries and is purposed to break typical rules. This is where juvenile justice professionals end up being involved and have to enforce the rules with punitive measures to stop such radical behavior that can be destructive to society.

It calls on all of us who are responsible for teenagers to do all we can to help them learn appropriate behavior and societal values. We need to give them values of other awareness that should be considered when they are encountering our society. Most of all we need to listen to their life journey and work to build strong relationships where we can create active and meaningful dialogue about these issues as we impart care, wisdom, consequences and healthy choices to them for navigate life struggles with a clear sense of what is emotionally and relationally healthy. This may not be easy for some parents, caregivers or professionals.  However, we certainly are in a position to have significant impact on their behavior where we may be able to short-circuit some of the types of attitudes that are reflected when they are tempted to be destructive.   

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