Finnish NGO helps shopping centre management interact better with youngsters

Sustainability -

The Finnish NGO Youth Service Organization (=Nuorten Palvelu ry) was founded in 1969. At that time their focus was on youth spending time out in the city. Youth Service specialists took to the streets to help and support the youngsters and to prevent unsafe situations.

“In the mid 90’s we noticed that teenagers were no longer hanging around on the streets so much. Instead, they had gone inside and, in bigger towns especially, to the shopping centres”, says Pauliina Lampela, specialist at Youth Service.

Common goal: the wellbeing of youth

As their habits changed, Youth Service also started to work at the shopping centres to be able to reach, help and support the teenagers. These days Youth Service cooperates with different retail property owners and security companies. Everyone’s common aim is to make sure that youngsters spending time in the shopping centres feel well and safe.

Additionally, Youth Service has educated and helped shopping centre management and security personnel to interact better with youth who spend time in the shopping centres. Youth Service has also trained youth-focused shopping centre security guards who serve not only a security function, but also as trusted, reliable adults that youths at our centres can contact for any issue, big or small.

Youth-focused security guards are trusted adults in the daily life of the shopping centre

Pauliina Lampela has personally encountered several hundreds of youngsters in Finnish shopping centres during the last decade. Below she has answered some common questions and concerns about this topic.

How should the shopping centre management respond to teenagers that spend time in centres?

“We advise the shopping centre management to be understanding with youngsters. But it does not mean that everything should be allowed and that there should not be any boundaries. Yet, we believe that instead of issuing bans, it’s better to dialogue with youngsters. Some of the youngsters that spend time in the shopping centres can be called ‘heavy-users’, meaning that they might spend several hours in centres every day. It’s possible that they don’t meet many other adults besides the shopping centre personnel.”

How in practice could the adults in the centres support youngsters?

“We encourage the shopping centre management and security personnel to build networks with local schools, municipality youth workers or with the local police. Youth Service can help to enhance shopping centre personnel’s knowledge and understanding on youth as a phase of life. It’s important that the adults working in the shopping centres recognise alarming signals as early as possible. For example, these problems could relate to various substances, teasing or skipping school.”

Sometimes youngsters get into quarrels – how should these situations be handled?

“It helps if the security guards already know the youngsters who are causing trouble. That often prevents the escalation of events. It’s also easier to handle tricky situations if people know one another and if there is mutual respect. Teenagers usually understand quite well that adults step in when there is too much noise or other disturbing behaviour. But they are sensitive to equality and they expect to be treated politely in all situations.”

How should customers react to youngsters that spend time in the shopping centres?

“It’s a common feature of most Western cultures that big crowds of young people are easily considered threatening. Adults are also often concerned about how youngsters spend their time; adults tend to think they are just slacking off when they meet each other. But gathering with friends is mostly a positive thing. If adults reflected on their own youth, they might remember this. My advice to all adults is that they should give space to young people. Youngsters need the freedom to just hang out with their friends. It’s not a problem per se.”

About NGO Youth Service

Nuorten Palvelu ry is a nationwide, politically independent youth work organization in Finland. The organization promotes the daily wellbeing of youth, where everyone has someone who listens and cares. The organization was founded in 1969. Throughout organization’s 50 years of history the focus has been supporting youth to have the opportunity to live a positive and safe, healthy life.