Question: I'm about to send my 17-year-old daughter back to college. She is an experienced traveler and will need to stay in a hotel for a couple of nights. But hotels are telling me that they won't rent to a 17-year-old. Is that legal? Can anything be done?
Federal Way, Wash.
Answer: Owen is right; his daughter Embry is an experienced traveler. In fact, as a younger teenager she earned the money to travel abroad to the place of her choice. She chose India, not a destination for the faint of heart. Before that, she raised the money to travel to the Amazon. She took both trips with her father.
But laws aren't made for the Embrys of the world; they're made for the rest of us who have a bit of larceny in our hearts. So innkeepers may refuse to rent to someone under 18 because that contract isn't enforceable.
For an innkeeper, that means that if there's no contract, a teenager may rent a room, charge food to room service and skip out, and Mr. Hotelier could do nothing about it, said Al Anolik, a travel rights attorney in the Bay Area.
Further, laws in many states, including California, give innkeepers the discretion to refuse a room if they have "just cause or excuse," said Jim Abrams, president and chief executive of the California Hotel & Lodging Assn., based in Sacramento.
Then there's the larger question of whether a 17-year-old should stay alone in a hotel. Many of the moms I spoke with said that if the kid is off to college, he or she needs to learn to handle the freedoms of being out there, so why not? Many of the dads said they would let their daughters stay alone if and when donkeys flew.
So there's no one-size-fits-all answer. But two therapists I spoke with said there may be a time, but this isn't it.
"It's not the same as leaving her at home on a Saturday night," said Tammy Gold, a psychotherapist and founder of Gold Parent Coaching, in New Jersey. "This is a . . . gigantic psychosocial change. With no one else close to her . . . all of these changes could throw her off and could make her susceptible to stress or anxiety."
Susan Kuczmarski, author of "The Sacred Flight of the Teenager: A Parent's Guide to Stepping Back and Letting Go," notes, with a laugh, that her book "is all about having parents become less involved" with their kids. But, she adds, this isn't the time to go from "a short leash to no leash."
So there are legal and psychological reasons that this might not work, and a whole lot of lively debate about what's the right thing to do. In the end, I liked what my friend Lili, the mother of a 26-year-old daughter, suggested.
"Is there someone from their church, maybe, she could stay with?" Lili asked. "Because there are wolves all around."
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