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Turning 18 Years Old Comes with Two Important Legal Changes

September 18, 2017


What teens and parents should consider about sharing information

A lot happens when you turn 18, and there are two important legal changes affecting the rights of your parents that you may not know. See our letter written to parents/guardians below. After they read this, they may want to have a few conversations with you and ask for your agreement to sign some legal documents. You should also feel empowered to start this conversation.

JED wants everyone who is turning 18, or who has done so already, and their parents to be knowledgeable about these issues and the options available.  We encourage you to discuss and make an informed decision together.


Dear Parent/Guardian,

Did you know that when your child turns 18 years old two federal laws kick into action that regulate if and when information included in your child’s education and health records may be shared with you, your family or others?

Education Records

The first change triggered is that you no longer have the right to have access to your 18 year old’s academic records. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects information in student education records.

There is a legal remedy. Your child can authorize you to access education records by completing and signing FERPA authorization forms, offered by most colleges online or through the office of the Academic Dean. Learn more about this in our guide developed in partnership with NAMI: Starting the Conversation: College and Your Mental Health.

Health Information

The second change may be concerning – when your child turns 18 years old you can no longer receive information about their health nor direct a healthcare provider unless your child gives you permission.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protects health information, but can also prevent colleges and hospitals from contacting parents. These laws require an emergency or an imminent threat of harm to self or to other people before parents may be contacted and health information shared. While many people believe that parents would be contacted in a serious situation, this is not always the case. The interpretation of “emergency” or “imminent threat” can vary. In assessing difficult situations, providers often choose to protect health information.

The only way for health care providers to legally share information without the risk of being sued is when the patient has already established a health care power of attorney and an advance medical directive, specifying whom the provider can legally contact, and the extent of medical care the patient wishes to receive.

To be enforceable, health care power of attorney and advance medical directives must meet the requirements of the local state laws (which often differ from state to state).

There are a couple of ways to address this situation – all of which involve your child’s consent and authorization.

  • Have an attorney draw up the documents and have your child sign them. You pay the attorney a fee to do this.
  • Locate the documents for the state your child lives in, download them, get your child to sign and have the documents notarized. This is free.

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