It’s not easy being a teen today. Nor is it easy being the parent of teens. There are so many ways for teenagers in get into legal trouble and social media trends are adding more.
Many of us have tutors and extracurricular activities thoroughly covered…but don’t think about teen legal issues until after something bad happens.
Here I’ll review 5 key questions and laws you need to know to help keep your teenager (and yourself) out of trouble:
1) Can School Officials Inspect My Teen’s Phone Content?
In most instances, school officials cannot open a phone without reasonable suspicion that something inappropriate has happened. The same goes for locker searches, opening a laptop and searching your teen’s personal property.
I recommend talking to teens about what is appropriate and preparing them for how to handle such requests. If school officials ask to search their personal property, it’s wise to counsel your teen to pause and ask to speak with Mom or Dad before complying.
2) What Can Happen if Teens Drink in My Home?
Social host laws make parents liable for teen alcohol consumption. You can even be criminally charged for contributing to the delinquency of minors.
While social host laws vary by jurisdiction, they generally impose a duty on hosts not to “furnish or serve alcohol to minors.” Where “furnish” means merely to make it available in your house.
So if it isn’t locked up and teens manage to drink it, you can be liable!
If teens drink alcohol from your liquor cabinet, without your knowledge, you could potentially be charged. Even if you’re not home. The liability is both criminal and civil. You can even be held responsible for civil damages for auto accidents, injuries or other acts that happen after they leave your home.
Teens can be charged with driving under the influence if they have any detectable alcohol in their system. For instance, under California DUI laws, a teen can be charged with DUI if their blood alcohol level BAC is just .01% or higher.
3) Am I Liable if My Teen Causes an Accident?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, teens aged 16 to 19 years old are the highest risk age group for causing and being involved in auto accidents.
In most instances, parents are liable for an under 18 year old child driving a vehicle owned by the parents. If a teen has a driver’s license, the parent has properly added the teen to their insurance policy and policy limits are sufficient, the financial liability will usually be taken care of by insurance.
A few states, such as California and Florida, require that parents agree to assume liability for their teen when they sign their driver’s license application.
Some potential areas to watch out for:
If you know your teen is a danger due to poor or reckless driving, DUI or prior history of accidents and you still let them drive without reasonable restrictions, your liability can be enhanced due to concept called negligent entrustment.
Criminal or Intentional Acts
Insurance policies typically exclude criminal conduct and intentional acts. Depending on the facts and state you live in, sometimes insurers can try to take the position that reckless driving or driving under the influence is an intentional act and deny coverage. Especially if you’re trying to get insurance to pay for serious injuries to other passengers and drivers.
4) What Problems Can Teen Sexting Cause?
Mix phones, their cameras and teen hormones, and it’s no surprise that can lead to racy pics or videos being sent. While teens (and many parents) think of it as harmless flirting, law enforcement can view it as child pornography.
The other issue is teen pranking, relationship breakups, peer pressure and phone hacking can lead to photos getting out and used to shame and embarrass.
5) What Cyberbullying Laws Are There?
Cyberbullying has grown with the explosive rise of social media and cell phone usage. Social media enables bullying to be quickly and easily viewed by all of a teen’s friends, family and schoolmates. This can amplify the shame, embarrassment and psychological effects of bullying.
Bullying laws and regulations vary by state and jurisdiction. Most states have school sanctions for cyberbullying and electronic harassment that occur on campus. Some even have criminal penalties. But only about a dozen states have school sanctions that address off-campus bullying.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers detailed info on the laws by state here.
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