Gen Xers can’t stop talking about our childhoods spent running wild in the streets. We were out there, “Goonies”-like, doing hits from rusty garden hoses and climbing jagged jungle gyms as our Keds melted on the asphalt, our parents unsure of where we were until dinner or the streetlights came on. That independence continued into our teens, though we switched to running the halls of various malls, holding court at the food court and trying on the bounty of sweaters at Gap.

Things are different now, as I discovered in a Baltimore Banner story earlier this week about how some local malls, including some I used to hang out at in the 1980s, now require kids 17 and under to be accompanied by an adult during certain hours because of concerns about safety, theft and general hooliganism.

That makes sense, but I’m not being hyperbolic when I tell you that rule would have changed the trajectory of an entire generation’s adolescence. Also it would have sucked.

Think about it. Gen X was so mall-coded that there was an entire 1980s movie where teens hid out from zombies in one. We weren’t home on our Xboxes or making TikToks in our bedrooms. I could be found at Towson Mall (now the larger and fancier Towson Town Center), and the dearly departed Hunt Valley Mall and The Gallery at Harborplace.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

There were some troublemakers — there always have been — but most of the kids I knew weren’t congregating to mess with people. We just wanted to be, as Ariel sang, where the people were. A malls was a place that was “self-contained, with movies and food and boys,” explained Lynne Streeter Childress, my identical twin and lifelong running buddy.

The mall was great for the boys and pizza, and also because our parents weren’t there unless they were dropping us off or planning to meet up after doing their own shopping. Being there alone was part of growing into young adulthood — learning about fashion, flirting and practical math, like how many giant pizza slices it takes to feed four teen girls. (The answer is two.) If we’d had to follow our folks around, “we would not have gone,” Lynne said.

I spent more than an hour on Zoom earlier this week with her and our friend Paige Lehr, whose Ford Tempo we used to jet around town in to various air-conditioned shopping emporiums, about mall culture and why we were so drawn to it.

“Malls were the benchmark of Gen X,” Lehr said. “They were a way to connect with friends outside of school or who went to different schools. There wasn’t Snapchat or Instagram. There was no texting. If you wanted to see your friends, you dropped a note in their locker or you saw them at the mall.”

To me, it comes back to autonomy. I didn’t drive as a teen, so I was either in the back seat of the Tempo or on the bus. There was a sense of individuality that, again, came from not always being with your folks. “We had our own jobs, and you were there at the mall with your little check,” Lehr said. “Everything I bought, I paid for.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

I loved my parents and enjoyed spending time with them at home, the movies or at the Towson TGI Fridays eating nachos. But even if we were at the mall together, we were definitely not interested in the same stores.

Lynne reminded me that forced family mall time once resulted in my poor dad essentially picking my senior prom dress in 1989. I’d waited till the weekend before to get one and he was trapped at 8:30 p.m. on a Saturday night in the juniors department of Hecht’s for their one-day sale.

After I’d tried on every dress in the store and was no closer to a decision, my exasperated dad said, “What about that green one? You liked that green one! We’re getting that dress because we’ve been here too long!”

So you know what having to be in the same store with my dad in a mall got me? A puffy-sleeved, mint green, tea-length Jessica McClintock gown with a giant ’80s butt bow.

Malls are on the decline even without these curfews and restrictions because the way people shop and socialize has changed. Lehr also thinks there’s a difference in parenting trends. The world is different, and in responding to it, Gen X’s independence in the wake of our latchkey status has, in some cases, produced children that we constantly keep tabs on.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“When I got my car, it was like, ‘Feed me when you see me! Catch you on the flip!’” Lehr said, and I know that’s true because I was with her. “They didn’t have any idea where I was or if I had a flat tire until I walked back in the door.” She contrasts that to parents she knows who monitor even their adult children’s movements online. “They’re like, ‘So-and-so is going through the car wash,’ and I think, ‘Never mind how do you know that. Why do you know that? Don’t you have enough to do?’”

Because of changes in retail, nobody — including kids — needs to shop in person at a mall to get what they want. But both Lehr and my sister think that if businesses respected the money that the young demographic spent, they might be less restrictive. “You think about whether the malls would be failing as much if they looked at these kids as actual consumers,” Lynne said, who added that she thinks some of these curfews and restrictions have a racial bias (as do I).

Yes, young people can be knuckleheads and sometimes shoplift and cause problems. But it’s been that way since malls began. “I see some parents physically there who are doing no more to manage or oversee their kids than if they hadn’t been there,” Lehr said.

I don’t go to the mall much, but when I do I always smile when I see groups of young people, no grownups around, giggling conspiratorially as they walk through the halls loaded down with Sephora and Forever 21 bags, lost in their own world. It’s such a specific slice of time when you get to have that kind of fun, without anyone shadowing you. I’m glad they don’t have to drink from water hoses anymore. But this Gen X experience, at least, is one I wish for them.