A few days ago, I listened as several shopping mall owners and managers talked about problems dealing with unruly groups of young people who enjoy “hanging out” and causing trouble.

Some groups have become such a nuisance that they are causing would-be mall customers to shop elsewhere.

I heard horror stories about mall security guards being assaulted, customers being jeered at and denied access to stores, and about the legal entanglements that can develop when security guards try to force these groups to leave the premises.

Most of the owners and managers had been trying forceful, overt methods when confronting the youth groups, but they were doing nothing to change the mall environment that attracts the groups.

Have you noticed there are some places where most people wouldn’t dream of engaging in a loud argument or horseplay? Churches, libraries and courtrooms come to mind.

At the same time, you’d be a little out of place adopting “library behavior” while sitting in Texas Stadium just after a Cowboys’ touchdown.

The point: Human behavior often is determined (and sometimes controlled by) surroundings.

Security plans are designed to control others’ behavior, but such plans don’t have to be overt or forceful.

We erect fences and lock doors so people won’t enter areas where they aren’t wanted. We put money in a safe so others can’t easily take it. We hire uniformed guards to deter criminals.

These security activities work most of the time, but sometimes they don’t attack the real issue: Changing the “atmosphere” in and around an establishment to change peoples’ behavior.

Consider the boisterous youth groups: Usually, kids congregate in areas with indirect lighting, easy access to parking and food, and where music is played.

If such groups are a problem at your establishment, don’t immediately station a uniformed guard in the area: Try this idea first: Intensify lighting in the problem area, as well as in the path to and from the street or parking area. If the parking area is a problem, increase light intensity there.

Another idea: If you are playing music in the area, begin playing classical or soft country. If music isn’t normally played, consider installing an inexpensive system. (Show me a youth group that will stick around for that kind of music!)

Last but not least: Have your security personnel walk through the area periodically with a flash-equipped camera, taking pictures of the group.

If you employ these ideas, you may be surprised how quickly the problem is solved.

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