What Are a 14-Year-Old's Legal Rights?

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A person under the age of 18 retains few rights under the law in the U.S. As far as the court and the law are concerned, such teens are under the guidance and legal control of their parents or guardians. For 14-year-olds, this legal fact tends to dominate a number of issues that guide and affect the teen’s life whether he likes it or not. When the teen becomes a ward of the state because his parents or guardian can't take care of him any longer that teen’s legal rights can become even more restricted.

The Status of a Minor

A 14-year-old is still a minor, just like a younger child and regardless of whether she might be very mature for her age. Minors have no legal right to contract, vote, make legal decisions for themselves, or even hold jobs in some states depending on how old they are. They cannot legally own property. State and federal statutes are written to protect children by placing adults in charge of their lives. The adults can be parents, guardians or sometimes even the government.

Employment Privileges

Children and teens were employed in industrial functions as a result of their smaller size and dexterity beginning in the early 20th century. This led to child labor laws to prevent such abuse. Today, 14-year-olds live at the edge of employment eligibility with restricted rules. These restrictions keep these younger employees limited to part-time status in most states, typically no more than 20 hours a week, at least during the school year.

Age of Consent

Although teens can engage in premarital sex in practical terms, a 14-year-old is generally below the age of consent to engage in such a physical relationship with an adult. Despite how mature a 14-year-old teen might be mentally, he has no legal capacity under the law’s view to join with an adult. Although adults or older teens might argue otherwise, a 14-year-old is automatically considered a victim of a criminal, predatory adult in such a relationship – a crime defined as statutory rape.

Medical Care

Rules for medical care vary between the medical community standard and the prudent patient view and by state. The medical community perspective assumes a state standard already exists regarding what is acceptable consent by a minor. The prudent patient standard looks at issues case by case and typically requires that a third-party expert witness corroborate a physician’s view that a 14-year-old’s medical consent was appropriate to rely on.

Adoption and Custody

This is an area in which 14-year-olds do have some rights in a few states. Georgia law requires that a judge must take a child's wishes into consideration in custody disputes if he's at least age 14. The teenager's desire about which parent she wants to live with is not controlling, however. The judge doesn't necessarily have to rule the way the child wants. And several states, including Tennessee, require that adoptions cannot be approved and legally granted if the child being adopted is at least age 14 and has not given his consent.


  • In some cases and in some states, 14-year-olds have more rights than younger minors, but they're still not granted legal control of their lives.

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