9 Things Teens Can Legally Do That You Never Knew About

When you’re a teenager, it’s pretty easy to believe that you don’t have any real autonomy. The powerlessness can be stifling. Your parents control your curfew with an iron fist, the government won’t let you have a beer even if you’re nearly old enough to vote, and you can’t even go to some concerts or see certain movies because of your age. So yeah, plenty of doors are closed to you because you haven’t hit a magical number that your society or its laws have deemed old enough, and it blows.

But did you know that you have a lot more rights than you thought, in matters that are a little more important than buying watery beer or watching a crappy R-rated movie? Well, you do. From abortion rights to dealing with the police, here are nine things you didn’t know you could legally do as a teenager.

Note: This post is specific to the United States. Laws regarding drinking, driving, and more might be more or less restrictive in other countries, however.

Date An Adult

Whoa, okay, before you start fantasizing about the idea of dating a handsome 25-year-old, know that there are big exceptions to this rule.

So, here's the deal: Every state has its own age of consent, and many states have something called Romeo and Juliet laws. These laws give legal protection to couples who have very small age differences between them. This is usually the case for 14-16-year-olds who are dating 18 and 19-year-olds. With Romeo and Juliet laws in place, a 15-year-old could potentially have an 18-year-old partner without the latter getting charged with statutory rape and becoming a registered sex offender.


Get An Abortion Without Parental Permission

This is so important for folks who might get abused or disowned if they tell their parents that they're pregnant. However, this is only a reality in some states, including California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. South Carolina requires parental consent if the pregnant teen is under 17-years-old; in Wisconsin, any relative of the pregnant teen who is over 25-years-old can provide consent. If you live outside of the aforementioned states, you're out of luck, unfortunately.

Illustration by Sarah C. Wintner

Get Birth Control Without Parental Consent

If talking to your parents about taking the pill just isn't an option, there are ways you can obtain it without your parents knowing. You can set up an appointment at your doctor, gynecologist, or a clinic (like Planned Parenthood) and ask about the pill. Thanks to doctor-patient confidentiality, your doctor cannot rat you out to you parents.

If you can't obtain birth control through your insurance (which, lets be real, is probably through your parents), you can pay out of pocket for your pills. Some brands are less than $20 a month.


Get An Exam By A Doctor Without Your Parents Knowing

Speaking of doctor-patient confidentiality, your parents don't have to be informed of any appointment you have with a doctor. Do you think you have herpes? Your parents don't have to give you permission to find out, nor do they need to know if you test positive.

My So-Called Life

Buy Emergency Contraception

In a relatively recent development, 15-year-olds and older can buy emergency contraception like Plan-B. Before May of 2013, you had to be 17-years-old, which is ridiculous given the fact that many teens experiment with sex before then.

Plan B

Refuse To Talk To The Cops

Obviously, we hope you never get into any trouble with the police. But in case you do, please remember that you have the same rights as an adult in this situation: You have the right to keep your mouth shut.

Don't feel pressured to talk to them; tell them that you'll only answer questions if you have your parents or a lawyer present. If the police wish to search you, you can deny them (if they don't have reasonable suspicion to search you). Ask them if you're allowed to go whenever you can; you might seem like you're complying to additional probing if you just stick around.

Harold And Maude

Be Employed

In the United States, 14-years-old is the minimum age in which someone can work a job beyond delivering newspapers. When you're 14-years-old or 15-years-old, you can work up to three hours a day on school days outside of school hours. On weekends or when school isn't in session, you can work up to eight hours a day, 40 hours a week.

Anyone 16-years-old and older can work as many hours as they want.

She's All That

Emancipate Yourself

You can be under 18-years-old and still have the rights of an adult...if you legally emancipate yourself. This means that you are free from any control by your parents, and your parents are no longer legally responsible for you.

You can't just decide you're done dealing with your parents one day, sign some papers, and become an adult. Nope, there are fees involved, and a court has to deem you responsible enough to take care of yourself. Generally, 16-years-old is the minimum age in which somebody could apply for emancipation, but California's is 14-years-old (you'll find out why that makes sense in a second).

You might be wondering why someone might want to go through all of that. Well, some teens deal with dysfunctional family situations and want to take care of themselves, move out, etc. This is also a popular decision for child actors who want to protect their money from potentially greedy parents (which is probably why California's age is so low).

It's important to note, however, that while an emancipated minor can rent an apartment, handle their own money, etc, they aren't granted all of the rights of an adult. For example, they still can't vote or buy cigarettes until they're of age.


Practice Your First Amendment Rights At School

This is definitely the case at a public school. You have freedom of speech and freedom of the press. That zine you want to pass around school about how stupid your curriculum's abstinence only sex-ed classes are? Yeah, you're totally allowed to do that. Don't feel like saying the pledge of allegiance at the pep rally? You can't get in trouble for that. Sure, there are some gray areas about what your school can and can't do, especially since they're basically your replacement parents for eight hours of the day, but you have more flexibility than you think.


What rights do you wish you could have as a teen?  Do you think any of these rights should be restricted for teenagers, like abortion access? Tell us in the comments!

You can follow the author, Ashley Reese, on Twitter or Instagram. Don’t worry, she doesn’t bite!

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  • Jordyn Johnson

    This is a great article Ashley, honestly really gave me some inspiration for my blog!

  • Wolfsbane

    In regards to talking or not talking to the police. Let’s get real here.

    A lawyer is a far better choice than your parents. I’m fifty and over the last thirty plus years I’ve read literally hundreds of stories about parents selling their kids out to the police in order to ‘teach them responsibility’ ‘teach them a lesson” ” Stop the path they’re on” and other disingenuous self serving tripe that ends up destroying their kid’s life.

    Remember parents also send their children to privately run concentration camps whose behavior and operation likely would have gotten their owners and employees at appointment with a rope at Nuremberg in the late 1940s.

    A lawyer has to protect you and your best interests. Sadly parents do not.