During the last decade, university and college counseling centers have reported a shift in the needs of students seeking counseling services, from more benign developmental and informational needs, to more severe psychological problems. In general, students are coming to college “overwhelmed and more damaged than those of previous years.” There are many factors that contribute to this, but one notable factor might be the spontaneous bestowment of various legal rights on teenagers living away from home for the first time. Here are five new legal rights that new college students should prepare for.
(1) The ability to enter into binding contracts.
Children younger than 18 may enter into contracts; however, they are not legally bound by the contracts. In other words, if they breach a contract by failing to uphold their end of the bargain, the other party has no recourse in law. Contracts entered into after age 18, however, are binding and come with the corresponding consequences. In addition, if a child enters into a contract and then “ratifies” it after he turns 18 (that is, indicates by words or actions that he intends to be bound by the contract), then it will be given binding effect.
(2) The right to sue or be sued in their own names.
It can be a scary experience to be sued. For the first time in the teenager’s life, if he commits a tort against someone, he might find himself at the business end of someone’s lawsuit. In addition, he can now sue people who violate his rights.
(3) The right to write a will.
Once a child turns 18, he can draft or revoke a will. Although few college students actually draft wills, the power to control property in the contemplation of mortality is a heavy acknowledgment that one has reached maturity.
(4) The ability to serve on a jury.
College students who are U.S. citizens, able to understand English, and have not been convicted of a felony may be summoned for jury duty. That being said, courts will generally allow students to postpone service until their next school break (whether winter or summer).
(5) The loss of mandatory parental support.
Once a child turns 18, his parents are no longer required by law to support him. Child neglect and abandonment state statutes generally apply only to minors under 18 years old.
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Going to college can be a jarring experience, made more stressful by the sudden addition of new legal rights and responsibilities. The best way for new college students to handle these changes is to take some time to educate themselves on their new rights and responsibilities, in order to mentally and emotionally prepare themselves for their brand new role in society.
 Kitzrow, Martha Anne. "The mental health needs of today’s college students: Challenges and recommendations." (2003): 167-181; Gallagher, R., Sysko, H., & Zhang, B. (2001). National survey of counseling center directors. Alexandria, VA: International Association of Counseling Services.
 Kitzrow, Martha Anne, supra, at 169.
 Generally, children and sue and be sued; however, only with the help of a guardian or parent.
 See, e.g., http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/daughter-18-sues-parents-for-support/2014/03/06/75beb836-a49e-11e3-84d4-e59b1709222c_story.html.
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