Children are not considered to be capable of making decisions for their overall well-being; this is because children are still developing both physically and mentally. There’s a saying that experience is the best teacher, and this is especially true when it comes to the practical things in life. There are things that you only learn by going through them, and these experiences bring you growth and maturity. Children often do not encounter these experiences until a certain age, and typically are not considered to be adults until they reach the age of maturity which varies from state to state. With all that being said, although children or minors do not have the same legal rights as adults, certain legal rights are afforded to them to help protect their well-being.
Every child born in the United States are entitled to a safe environment, adequate nutrition, healthcare, and education. Parents are given the right to raise their kid however they see fit just as long as these basic needs are met. If any of these rights are violated by parents, the state has the authority to take a child off their parent’s custody to ensure that they are protected, well-fed, cared for, and have access to education. Children also have the right to equal protection, meaning that a child should not be treated by any authority figure any differently because of the traits they were born with like sex, race, or disability. Minors are also entitled to due process, just like any other citizen of the United States.
As children grow older, they acquire more rights that depend on the state where they live, the child’s age, and level of maturity that each child has. Free speech is a right that minors have; although this may be limited since there’s a possibility that a child’s words could have ill effects on other children, this is especially true for younger children who are still learning how to socialize appropriately. Young students often do not realize just how devastating their words could be to another child.
Employment is another right that a minor is entitled to once they become teenagers. Since we would like to teach teenagers the value of working and of having real responsibilities, having them work over the summer break or after school is one way to help them develop. Not only does working give them a sense of responsibility and independence, but it also provides them with a great avenue to experience what the “real world” is like firsthand. Although teenagers are allowed to work, the exact age and work hour limitations vary from state to state. The federal government has also deemed some jobs to be hazardous, and therefore minors are not allowed to participate in these in any way, shape, or form.
Emancipation is also another right that a minor may have. Emancipation means that a minor is solely responsible for their well-being and are no longer under the care of their parents. If a minor wants to be emancipated, they would have to file a petition in court where their level of maturity and capability to support themselves financially will be considered before granting emancipation. In California, a fourteen-year-old minor may file a petition for emancipation.
Although children are afforded increasing rights as they mature, they are still not given the following rights until they reach the age of adulthood: the right to vote, enlist in the military (seventeen-year-olds are allowed but only with parental consent), consent to any medical treatments, and to take legal action on their behalf. If there’s a need for a child to undergo any of these, they would have to ask a parent or legal guardian to do it on their behalf.
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