Paint Thinner and The Walmart Nanny State

While I was visiting with a friend this weekend, her teenaged son wanted to pick up some paint thinner. He recently was given a broken down classic Ford Mustang which he is restoring and rebuilding and he was told by the folks helping him that paint thinner would help him strip off the paint currently on the car. So we took him to the local Walmart and waited outside in the car while he went in to pick up what he needed.

A few minutes later he came out saying they wouldn’t sell it to him because he’s underage. I understood that, he’s a minor, I presume it could be used for graffiti or he could sniff the fumes to get high and there’s some local law preventing selling it to minors, like there is with spray paint. We headed in so his mom could tell the cashier it’s OK. Then things got odd…

The cashier wouldn’t take the boy’s money, he had to hand the money to his mom who handed it to the cashier. I felt that was a little overboard, but then it got worse. The cashier pointed out that she still shouldn’t be selling them the paint thinner since she knew he was going to use it. Procedure said that she should be calling over her manager and she could get into big trouble for selling it to them. I also felt there was an undercurrent that his mom was doing something wrong by letting him have it.

At what point did that become the responsibility of the people at Walmart? If there’s a policy or local ordinance stating that minors can’t buy paint thinner, that’s fine, he didn’t buy it, his mom did. I realize that it can be dangerous, but by having a parent involved in the process isn’t Walmart (or any store) transferring the responsibility of the purchase over to the parent?

When I was a teen I bought this without a problem in the local hardware store. The store owner might’ve asked what I was doing with it, probably to make sure I was buying the right stuff, but also to make sure I wasn’t up to mischief. I know on more then one occasion I was in there buying solvents and paints to use with models. I’m not sure how in 25 years we have gone from that to this. I do wonder however if it’s the lack of personal contact in the process. The hardware store owner knew me since I was a small child and had seen me in the store with my parents. I’m sure if he felt something was wrong, he would’ve called home and let my parents handle it.

Now a days, parents seem to be treated not as someone to handle the problem but an accomplice.