This is part of the Youth Rights 101 series. Please check out Youth Rights 101: Introduction for the rest of the series and more information.

I saw a sign at a store saying anyone under 16 must be accompanied by an adult at all times. Is that legal?

Depends on the store and where you are. This is illegal in some states (Maryland, Virginia, Michigan, and New Jersey, to name a few) and only partially legal in some others. Of course, regardless of legality, there’s no question such policies are very wrong!

Even in states where it is illegal, many stores still put up policies like this, usually unaware of the law forbidding it.

Similar policies include allowing only two teens in the store at a time or having an express line specifically for non-students. Such policies have been found at convenience stores, department stores, restaurants, party supply stores, bowling alleys, pet stores, music stores, and many more. And these businesses are under no legal obligation to discriminate against the young. They freely choose to.

Common excuse is they believe teens are more likely to shoplift, which forgets that people of all ages can and do shoplift, and there’s no guarantee someone will shoplift simply because of age.

Others claim they sell age-restricted or other somehow sensitive products that merits limiting presence of youth, assuming the youth would disturb the merchandise or try to buy something they aren’t legally allowed to.

In any case, the real answer to such problems is the same, which is for store staff to keep better watch over what’s happening in the store, regardless of age of patrons. For all they know, while they’re keeping a close watch on an innocent 15-year-old browsing the shelves, a 45-year-old may have just pocketed something and walked out!

Many hotels will not allow under-21s to check-in because they fear underage drinking in their rooms, but that would still be a risk even if the young people were with their parents, and this ban serves only to inhibit innocent independent youth.

Malls are increasingly setting teen curfews, requiring all unaccompanied youth to vacate the premises after a certain time, usually explicitly admitting the purpose is to make adult shoppers more comfortable. They’d rather have youth-hating adults as customers than youth themselves!

Similarly, some stores, bothered by the presence of teenagers, install “Mosquito” devices, which emit a high-pitched sound audible only to young people meant to annoy them and drive them away! Like pests!

And all of these policies completely disregard any profits these stores might have made from young people buying something if they had been welcome!

Discriminatory signs and policies do not save businesses from robbery or other misfortune, and serve only to reinforce the social idea that young people are “other”, that it’s acceptable to explicitly tell them they are not trusted and not welcome because of when they were born, because of who they are.

What do you think? What are some other ways businesses senselessly discriminate against the young? What experiences have you had with this? Tell us in the comments!

See Also:
Pet Store
NYRA Defeats Giant
Age Discrimination in Maryland sheet


  1. >>For all they know, while they’re keeping a close watch on an innocent 15-year-old browsing the shelves, a 45-year-old may have just pocketed something and walked out!<< Yep. I remember as a teenager browsing in book stores and being "subtly" followed around by staff. Now that I'm older, I no longer get that treatment. I don't dress any better than I did then. I'm no more ethical. If anything, back then I was more of a good-two-shoes than I am now.

  2. There is this farm/park type place I live near. On their Farm Rules sign the first listed was no one under the age of 18 without adult supervison. This places has a sunflower maze, corn maze, hayrides, and many more. On the maze rule signs it says kids (anyone under 18) must be supervised by an adult we reverse the right to remove stray children from the maze. They fear that teens are to destroy the maze. They have security type people walk through the maze to sure that all kids and teens are supervised by an adult. For all they know while removing a 15 year old doing nothing wrong in the maze a 45 year old could be tearing up the maze or something else they could really hurt the maze.

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