Surprising Things Teens Can Do Before Age 18
by JR Thorpe
Happy teenage girl with closed eyes enjoying nature with open arms
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Life's legally barren before the age of 18, right? Wrong. While many rights are restricted to those who've hit adulthood in America, people who are younger, particularly in the 16 to 17-year-old range, have some surprising options, particularly when it comes to their own health. The trip from child to adult isn't as clearly delineated at 18 as you might think; alongside the right to work, which is the biggest legal right you get before age 18, there are various other ways in which you can take control of your life before the big 1-8, from organ donation to in-patient care for mental health issues.

The biggest way in which legal minor rights have entered the headlines over the last 12 months is voting rights: San Francisco, for instance, saw a measure that would allow 16-year-olds and upwards eligible to vote defeated, and the conversation about their eligibility continues to happen elsewhere in the States. Like many of these kinds of arguments, they tend to focus on whether 16-year-olds are mentally adult enough to be trusted to make sophisticated decisions like voting, or if they're still not sufficiently developed.

It's an interesting question, but if you're 16 and frustrated, you may like to know that there are certain ways in which you're more able to take control of your destiny than is immediately obvious. Here are five legal rights you have under age 18.

Be Treated For STDs Without A Guardian's Knowledge (In Some States)

Many of us worry about going to get health care for sexual problems from doctors when we're 16 or 17, as we're under the impression that our doctors have to therefore tell our parents. The reality is that it actually depends what state you're in and the opinions of your doctor. Let's go to the Center For Disease Control:

All 50 states and the District of Columbia explicitly allow minors to consent for their own health services for STDs. No state requires parental consent for STD care, although some states restrict a minor's ability to provide consent on the basis of age or type of service (i.e., prevention, diagnosis, or treatment only). No state requires that providers notify parents that an adolescent minor has received STD services, except in limited or unusual circumstances. However, many states authorize parental notification of a minor's receipt of STD services, even where the minor can legally provide his or her own consent to the service.

Eighteen states in the U.S., according to the Guttmacher Institute, "allow, but do not require" physicians to tell a minor's parent or guardian that they're seeking help for STDs if they think it's the best option. You've got more freedom than you might think, depending on where you are: in California, for example, you have the right to tell your doctor not to tell your parents if you're 16 or 17 and seeking STD treatment. (Abortion, on the other hand, does require some form of parental consent.)

Register As Organ Donors In 48 States

If you're 16 or 17, it turns out that you're actually allowed to be an organ donor in 48 states across the United States. The newest is New York, with the Young Adult Law coming into effect just this week. It's an important choice to make, since the waiting list for organs across the U.S. currently numbers nearly 120,000 people.

Organ donation saves lives every day in a very real and tangible way, and the ability to become a donor as a 16-year-old reflects the desperate necessity for a wide range of donors. LiveOnNY, the organization that spearheaded the fight for the new law in New York, views it as one of the biggest ways in which to widen the pool. LiveOnNY's CEO, Helen Irving, tells Bustle that the new lower minimum age is "another positive step" for New York in particular, which also has "one of the fastest growing registries in the country, and, most importantly, an increase in lives saved ... It aligns New York with 47 other states with minimum ages of 16 or younger, and should result in more young adults seeking information about donation, discussing donation, and, if inspired, registering as lifesaving organ donors.”

The LiveOnNY people are doing an "I Can't But I Can" campaign in high schools that highlights the many things people of 16 can't legally do in the U.S., and the one big thing they can: register as organ donors. When it comes to health, though, there are more entries on the "can" side than you might think.

Get A Passport Without Parental Consent

Sixteen and 17-year-olds are actually able to access adult passports. If you want to get it without parental knowledge, you have to do a few things, though. For one, 16 and 17-year-olds have to apply in person; for another, if you want to get one without your parent physically there or without a signed statement from one of them, you'll need current ID, like a driver's license or a past expired U.S. passport. And, of course, you'll have to shoulder the $135 or so fee. But no, you don't have to be over 18 to obtain a passport under your own steam.

Donate Blood (With Parental Consent)

The minimum age of blood donation to the Red Cross is actually 17 without parental consent. Sixteen-year-olds, however, have to have parental permission, or may not be allowed at all depending on the state they're in. Intriguingly, there are exceptions: sometimes 16-year-olds are permitted to donate blood "for their own use." The Red Cross explains what this means:

"in advance of scheduled surgery or in situations where their blood has special medical value for a particular patient such as a family member."

They also point out that you should wait for 12 months to donate blood after getting a piercing if it wasn't done with a single-use instrument (like the single-use piercing guns at Claire's). Make sure your friends know that before they sit down to pierce each others' ears with needles at a party.

Get Confidential Counseling For A Drug Or Alcohol Problem (In Certain States)

This is a fascinating one. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 44 states across the U.S. allow minors to get confidential counseling for a drug or alcohol problem. When it comes to the nitty-gritty, though, a lot depends on the state's own laws. A 2015 look at the laws across the U.S., state-to-state, found that there's a lot of difference: when it comes to inpatient drug treatment, for instance, Colorado, DC, Louisiana, Montana, Vermont and other states only require the minor to decide to do it (Vermont from the age of 12), while Delaware, Mississippi, Washington, Utah, and elsewhere only require the parent's decision.

There's a difference between the type of care offered and the consent required, too. Most states just need the minor's decision when it comes to outpatient drug treatment, but there's a lot of disagreement when it comes to who's in charge of outpatient mental health treatment. Overall, though, it's much more weighted towards the rights of minors than you might think. Always do your research, guys.