Despite how it may seem to a teenager, parents aren’t the only ones with legal rights. Teens have rights, too. The problem is the rights of a teenager often are balanced with the rights of their parents. And in many Instances, a parent’s right takes precedence over the child’s right. For example, a parent has a right to discipline her child, which outweighs a child’s right to determine his own conduct. This means a parent can spank a child unless the discipline reaches the level of abuse, and then the child’s right to safety outweighs the parent’s right to discipline.

Similarly, a teen has the right to control her body. But school searches, parental discipline, and tattoos and piercings are limitations to this right. (Teens generally need parental consent before getting a tattoo or piercing.) When it comes to a girl’s body and her ability to choose whether to have a baby or not, the law generally won’t step in to prohibit minors from getting an abortion, though some states do impose a parental notification requirement. This means a teen may have to get parental approval or at least prove she notified her parents. In any case, the U.S. Supreme Court requires that every state provide a judicial bypass procedure. This allows pregnant teens who don’t want to tell their parents to go to court and get permission from a judge instead. According to current law, fathers can neither force nor prevent the mother from choosing to have an abortion. Likewise, parents cannot force their children to have abortions or to give birth.

When Parental Rights Control

Parents have a great deal of control over their teens, because the right to bear and raise children is considered supreme in the U.S. Parents can determine what school their child goes to, when he’ll be able to drive, what religion he grows up in, when he can get a job, and whether he can marry before 18 years of age. The following list presents a few additional rights parents have with regard to their children:

  1. In most states, parents have a right to their minor children’s income or earnings;
  2. Parents can control their child’s education, such as choosing to home school;
  3. Parents and schools have the right to tell children what to wear, so long as any school dress code promotes good health or discipline;
  4. Although a teen has the right to free speech, a parent has the right to prohibit a child’s use of curse words;
  5. Parents can install “V-chips” and other devices to control what their children watch on television and see on the computer; and
  6. With limited exceptions, teens need parental approval to see a doctor or medical professional. (Exception: The law doesn’t require parental consent for birth control, and teens can seek help from family planning clinics or pubic health agencies.)

Becoming an Adult

Once a child turns 18, his right to control his own life overrides his parents’ rights. The downside is parents no longer have a legal obligation to provide basic necessities or financial support.

Even as an adult, our rights have limits. The rights of other people still temper our ability to do what we want. For example, colleges and universities control what happens on their campuses. Employers and companies control what happens in the workplace (e.g., an employee’s right to free speech bows to the right of the employer to prohibit sexual harassment). State or local laws can set curfews for minors, with penalties for disobeying like fines or community service, unless the minor has parental consent to be out later or is accompanied by an adult.

No matter what your age, being a member of U.S. society comes with certain unalienable rights and privileges, tempered by corresponding obligations and responsibilities. The sometimes divergent interests of parents and teens leads to a constant balancing act – sometimes the parent wins, and sometimes the teen wins. Once a teen becomes an adult, the balance shifts and he will enjoy many of the rights and privileges his parents have.