How to Know What Your Rights Are As a Teen
As a teenager, it can difficult to discern what your legal rights are. In some respects, you have the same legal rights and obligations as an adult. However, in others, you are still considered a minor. In order to properly exercise your rights and protect yourself, it is important that you understand your legal privileges. You will need to comprehend your rights as a student, as well as grasp any health and reproductive rights. Finally, if you are an LGBTQA teen, you will need to be able to exercise your rights in the face of discrimination. With a little research, you can know and better express your right.
Understanding Your Rights as a Student
Recognize that you generally have a right to free speech.As a student, you enjoy the same First Amendment rights as everyone else in the United States. That means that you can speak, print, draw, sing and generally express your opinions in a school setting. However, this does not mean that you can say anything. You cannot threaten someone or defame them - say things that are untrue. You also do not have a right to express obscenities. School officials can also censor your right to expression if they can demonstrate a reasonable educational justification for doing so.
- First Amendment guarantees only apply to public schools. Private schools do not fall under this jurisdiction, unless state law or school policy state otherwise.
- Depending on what state you live in, your right to free expression in school may be different. Check with your local ACLU about your First Amendment rights.
- Some states, such as Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Oregon and Massachusetts, have granted students strengthened students’ rights against censorship.
Understand that most schools can tell you what to wear.Although the First Amendment would appear to protect your right to wear whatever you wanted, most schools have the legal right to enforce dress codes. Dress codes can vary from school to school and state to state. However, your school must make its dress code public and available for everyone to read.
- This also applies to your hair and makeup.
- Be sure to check your school’s dress code to make sure that you meet the standards. If you wear clothing the school considers inappropriate, you may be sent home.
- These rules do not apply to private schools unless stated otherwise by a state legislature or school charter.
Know that your school cannot discriminate against your religious beliefs.Under the First Amendment, you also have a right to express your religious beliefs, or lack thereof. The First Amendment also prohibits public schools from endorsing, promoting or requiring participation in a specific religion or religious activity. In fact, religious activities can only occur at public schools if they are led by students. As a student, you can express your beliefs without a fear of punishment.
- Private schools have the right to promote a certain religious viewpoint unless stated otherwise by a state legislature or school charter.
Realize that you have limited rights to search and seizure.If a teacher or other school official has “reasonable suspicion” that you are violating the law or a school code, they can search you and your belongings. Unfortunately, there is no good definition of what constitutes “reasonable suspicion” and most cases are left to the discretion of school officials. It is more difficult for police officers, who need “probable cause” and a search warrant to perform a search.
- Without any proof that you’ve done something wrong, you do not have to consent to a search by the police or school officials. However, if you agree to be searched, any subsequent searches are considered legal.
- You cannot be strip searched by school officials.
Knowing Your Health and Reproductive Rights
Recognize that your parents will likely have access to your health care information.Under the U.S. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule, there are certain privacy protections placed on a patient’s health records in the United States. Many of these protections do not apply to minors. However, your provider can choose not to relinquish your records to your parent if they feel that there is a danger of domestic abuse, violence or neglect against you.
- Be sure to let your provider know if you releasing your records to your parent may endanger you.
Realize that you can get Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) services without your parent’s consent.If you contract an STI, you have a right to be tested and treated without getting your parent’s consent. However, in 18 states, a doctor can contact a minor’s parents if they believe that it is in the minor’s best interests. If you contract HIV/AIDS, you can be tested confidentially. However, if you are under 18, your doctor will have to get your parent’s permission to treat you, unless the doctor thinks your parents would deny your treatment.
- If you believe that you have HIV/AIDS, be sure to check your state’s rules and regulations about receiving treatment.
- A detailed list of each state’s health and reproductive laws can be found at
Know that you will likely need parental consent to get an abortion.In the United States, only two states and the District of Columbia allow minors to get abortions without their parent’s consent. In many states, you will need to notify your parents and/or get their consent in order to receive an abortion. If your parents do not consent, you can go before a judge who will determine if you are mature enough for an abortion.
- If you are considering an abortion, visit with an educator at your local Planned Parenthood.
- In some instances, your parents may be notified if there is a complication with the abortion.
Understand that you may have a right to contraceptives.If you are interested in getting contraceptives, more than half of all states allow you to obtain it without your parent’s consent. Other states allow minors over a certain age or in special circumstances to get contraception without parental consent. Be sure to research your state’s laws before getting contraception.
Consider Emancipation.If live somewhere that requires parental consent and you need to reproductive or medical assistance, you may want to consider gaining emancipation from your parents. Successfully receiving emancipation grants you autonomy under the law, meaning that you no longer need parent consent. In order to obtain emancipation, you will need to go before a judge and prove that you are capable of supporting yourself and that your parents are not assisting you.
- In most states you can become emancipated at the age of 16. However, be sure to check local laws and regulations.
Exercising Your Rights as an LGBTQA Youth
Realize that you have a right to safely express your identity.If you are an LGBTQA teen that attends a public school in the United States, you enjoy the same First Amendment rights as every other student. This means that you can be open and expressive of your sexuality and gender identity. For example, as a transgender student, you have the right to use and request that others use your preferred personal pronouns.
- This also means that you have the right to form LGBTQA groups and celebrate LGBTQA events.
Know that you may have a right to express your gender identity through the appropriate clothing.Although schools can largely dictate their own dress codes, if you are a transgender student, you may have greater freedom to dress in a way that matches your gender identity. Because of increasing legal pressure, many schools in the United States are rewriting their dress codes to accommodate transgender students.
Understand that you have the right to your romantic relationships like other students.As a gay or lesbian student, your school cannot prohibit your from bringing a same-sex partner to any school dances or events. While at the dance, the school must ensure your safety like it does all of the other students. Also, school officials cannot limit your public displays of affection more than they limit a straight student’s.
Recognize that the law is on your side when it comes to bullying.As a LGBTQA youth, you will likely experience some form of bullying. However, most states have anti-bullying legislation on the books that protect LGBTQA students. If you are being bullied by another student or school official, it is your right to take legal action against them.
- Schools can be considered liable if they do not adequately protect LGBTQA students.
Know that you have the right to use the bathroom of your choice.You have a right to use the restroom that reflects your gender identity. However, if you are transgender, many schools in the United States may still prevent you from using facilities that align with your gender identity. You may want to talk with school administrators or a guidance counselor before entering a bathroom that does not align with your birth gender.
Video: As a Human Being, Do you know what your Rights are?
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