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OPINION: Louisville’s shortcomings in welcoming adolescents into public spaces

Katie Dikes
The students run to the fence to congratulate the football team on their win against Ballard.

Teens across Louisville do not know where they are welcome. From football games to movie nights with friends, constant barriers make it difficult for high schoolers to engage in social activities. High school students are often social, seeking different ways to connect with peers during their free time. These barriers prevent the development of necessary social and emotional awareness. 

Football games are one of the few recreational activities students can rely on every Friday night. Attendance restrictions throughout the district this year have created a less than dependable social scene for many high schoolers. Until recently, high schools including Ballard and Male have not required parental figures to be present at games. After a year in JCPS marked by 19,000 referrals for fighting, schools are tightening up rules. 

According to a Male PTSA Facebook post, students from other schools must now have an accompanying parent to get into home football games. These adult accompanied restrictions are a common theme across the city, as Mall St. Matthews and Oxmoor Mall adopted a similar policy in 2015. At St. Matthews and its attached movie theater, those 17 and under must have an adult with them after 4 pm on Fridays and Saturdays. 

Local malls and high schools have good reasons for limiting adolescent opportunities, as fights and other intrusions have caused general mayhem. In 2015, around 1-2,000 teens shut down Mall St. Matthews, after police responded to reports of fights, harassment, and other disturbances. Despite these issues, it is still important that teenagers are able to form strong bonds with their peers. Without locations like the mall, football games, movie theaters and skate parks that are facing increased restrictions, young people will miss out on building connections associated with higher levels of emotional support. In fact, research by The National Academy of Sciences shows teenagers with more active social networks lead healthier lives. 

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“Football games are pretty relevant to my social life… I usually attend most to all of the home games and some of the bigger, more important away games such as Saint X, Ballard and Male,” Marcell Malone (11, HSU) said. Malone’s appreciation of football games reflects the importance of football attendance to Louisvillians, as some high school rivalries in the city date back to 1893. This includes the annual Manual vs Male football game, which usually attracts over 10,000 people from all over town to watch the tenacious rivalry game. With new restrictions, teenagers whose parents work late or are not always able to have an adult with them could miss out on attending. 

Continuing access to local events for teenagers is an easy way to promote necessary social engagement, and it is likely that it wouldn’t lead to a drastic increase in violence or adolescent caused disturbances. For example, the Campbell Collaboration, a non-profit policy research center, has found that adolescent curfews are “ineffective at reducing crime” and other disturbances. Considering that policies limiting teenager’s engagement in their communities are growing, it is important that local schools and businesses decide if these rules are truly making positive change.

It is imperative that teens feel welcome and socially prepared for their future through community engagement in our city. Restricting teenagers from accessing local spaces will not help interpersonal interaction but hinder it. In order to create a positive youth culture in Louisville, schools, businesses and other community spaces must open their arms to the next generation. 

This story was originally published on Manual RedEye on September 7, 2023.