‘ID, please’: Is there any logic to dizzying array of age restrictions?

Laura K. Silver is a vice president of the Jewish Light Board of Trustees who writes a blog for the paper’s website (stljewishlight.com/laura).  Laura is married and the mother of two high school age children.

By Laura K. Silver

I went to Home Depot earlier this week to buy spray paint because I was doing a small project at home and needed silver and gold metallic paint. As I scanned my item at Home Depot, the register stopped and up popped a card with the words “ID” written on it.

“I need ID to buy this?”  I asked the cashier.  

Without looking at me, she said, “Are you buying paint?”

“Yes,” I told her. 

“You have to be 18,” she replied. “It’s the teenagers. They sniff paint.”

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“Good to know,” I told her, as I bagged my purchase and left, but then I started thinking…. 

Recently, I’ve noticed that there are a lot of restrictions on what you can buy if you are a teen in St. Louis County. All of the rules are made ostensibly to prevent kids from harming themselves, but as I reflect about them in the context of the world, many of them do not make sense.

Take the paint. Teens are not allowed to buy it because they can sniff it. Fair enough, but glue, the sniff of choice for rebellious teens back when I was in a kid, is perfectly fine to purchase.   

Cigarettes? We all know that they can kill you, so St. Louis County moved the age up from 18 to 21.  I can get behind that, but I find it ironic that 18-year-olds can be drafted and asked to give up their lives, but are not allowed to smoke until they are twenty-one because it may kill them prematurely.  

Speaking of the army, want to enlist? You can at 17 with parental consent, but let’s hope you don’t have a severe cold while you are at boot camp, because you won’t be able to purchase pseudoephedrine until you are 18. This one-time medication used to sit on the shelves, but is now safely tucked away in the pharmacy.

While we are on the subject of things that used to sit freely on the shelves, earlier this year, I went to Walgreens only to find that the Tide Pods were under lock and key.  Please don’t tell me that you have to be 18 to do your laundry. I gave that responsibility to my kids when they turned 13 and I don’t want anyone to turn me in for endangering the welfare of a child.  

Which brings us back to the original objective—keeping kids safe. Funny that the number one cause of death for teenagers isn’t sniffing paint or pseudoephedrine, which we restrict until age 18. It’s accidents, and leading the list of accidental deaths are vehicles, which teens are legally allowed to start driving at age 15 in Missouri.  

And for as absurd as all of this piecemeal legislation may seem, when examined in the context of the world, that is not the worst of it.  What is even more ridiculous is that a 6 year old can legally acquire a firearm, because there is no age requirement for that.

I would tell you that if you want the laws to change, you will need to continue to protest, to march, to make those big, powerful, clever signs….  

But, remember, you’ll need to be 18 to buy the paint.