“Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.”
– Albert Einstein
In 3 months, Camille will be turning 18. Where did all the time go? Seriously. While eighteen is a magic birthday and milestone into adulthood, it is accompanied by great privileges as well as serious legal implications.
At 18, one can vote, purchase cigarettes, buy a house and get married. He/she can also go to jail, get sued, and gamble away his parent’s hard-earned tuition money in Vegas, then make terrible stock market investments. An 18-year old is considered an adult in nearly every state in the union.
Here are some important points every soon-to-be-18-year old should keep in mind:
- Ownership: An 18-year-old can’t rent a car, but he can buy one. He can also buy and sell real estate and stock, inherit property, enter into binding contracts, and get sued.
- Jail: Youthful legal misadventures that once might have netted parental wrath and a stern lecture from the local police – TP-ing the neighborhood, for example, shoplifting and even some minor drug possession charges – can now land an 18-year-old in jail.
- Jury Duty, Taxes and Selective Service: In addition to voting, 18-year-olds are eligible for jury duty, and they are responsible for paying their taxes on time. In addition, young men must register with the National Selective Service. Fail to register and your teen faces a $250,000 fine and/or five years in jail plus the loss of student loans and any federal or state employment.
- Driving Without Restriction: Some 47 states have graduated driving laws that restrict the hours and terms under which new, young drivers can get behind the wheel, but all driving restrictions are lifted at age 18. Adults may chat on a hands-free cell phone, drive in the middle of the night and carry passengers.
- Statutory Rape: Statutory rape laws are strange things. What’s permissible in some states means jail time in others. Enforcement is unpredictable. And the age of consent varies considerably from state to state. In one case, a 17-year-old was sentenced to 10 years in state prison for having oral sex with a 15-year-old.
Now for us parents, here are some (unexpected) ways we are affected once our children hit the magic age.
- Medical Issues: Want to discuss your 18-year-old’s health, possible sexual activity or substance abuse with his doctor or campus health services? No can do. When your child turns 18, you are no longer considered his legal representative. Under the federal Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), your teen’s health records are between him and his health care provider. If you need access, and your child agrees, he may grant you durable power of attorney, which authorizes you to make health care decisions for him, even if he is not incapacitated. (However, if your goal is to turn your child into a competent, independent adult, you might want to think twice about this option.)
- Insurance: Most family health and automobile insurance policies only cover teens through age 18, unless they are enrolled as full-time students. Be sure to check with your insurance agent or click here for ways to get health coverage for your not-yet-employed child.
- Financial Privacy: Want to discuss your child’s credit card balance or financial account status with his college or bank? His finances are as private as yours. You may still have access to any joint accounts you’ve set up with him, but no college purser or bank officer will break confidentiality laws for your teen’s private accounts. Most colleges, however, offer teens the option of granting their parents access to tuition and housing bills. (P.S. Most also allow teens to charge books, sweatshirts and other campus bookstore purchases to their campus accounts. Setting some guidelines would be a smart move.)
- Grades and Academic Records: Similarly, your son or daughter’s relationship with professors and college administrators is also private. Paying your child’s college tuition does not give you access to his grades.
- Your New Role: And finally, your job has changed dramatically, from 24/7 parenting to advisor. Need a good place to start? Sit down and discuss your teen’s new legal status with them.