What Does Turning 18 Mean Legally? Tips to Protect Yourself

what does turning 18 mean legally for young adults

Most people can’t wait to become adults, but what does turning 18 mean legally? It’s not all fun and games. Yes, you get access to adult privileges but get the same treatment a fifty-year-old would receive from authorities. And nobody cares that you are “only a teenager.”

You can incur liabilities like your parents, go to jail for crimes you commit, and get bound to legal contracts, but you can’t consume alcohol or nicotine legally yet.

Yes, Adulting can be scary, but it’s also fun!

Knowing what is expected of you and the legal implications of things you may take for granted will hopefully help you get into, and navigate the adult world seamlessly. That is what we intend to help you achieve with this post.

This post will examine both sides of the legal implications of turning 18. Let’s jump right in…

What is the Legal Adulthood Age in the USA

In the United States, the State determines the legal age. Most States have 18 as the legal age of adulthood, but some States say 17. Take, for instance, if you commit a crime in the State of Michigan, you will be tried as an adult. So, for the purposes of Criminal Law, Michigan considers 17 the legal age of adulthood.

Individuals that are emancipated are also considered adults, though they may be as young as 16 – 18 years old.

The legal age of adulthood is also known as the age of majority, which means you are no longer a minor, and certain legalities and responsibilities become enforceable. But as an adult, you can also enjoy some privileges.

What Can 18-Year-Olds Do Legally?


So What Does Turning 18 Mean Legally For You?

You can do everything as an 18-year-old except drinking and smoking, plus schools will regard you as dependent on your parents until you turn 24.

You Can Sign Legally Binding Contracts

Yes, at 18 years, contracts your sign are binding and can be enforced upon you. Most 18-year-olds are still young children, needing the guidance of their parents, but if they fall into a situation where they enter into a contract by themselves, mom and dad are not going to be on the hook for performance; the 18-year-old is. While this is hard for some young people to get, a real-life experience might jolt their reality.

This reminds me of a recent encounter…

Here’s my story – I sent my son, aged 18, to the management office at the apartment we were leasing for him and his brother while attending college at UTSA. I asked him to find out what it would take to renew their lease and report back to me.

Meanwhile, I was looking at small homes we could purchase for the same amount we were spending on rent. Still, with the crazy housing market, I wanted to be sure to renew the lease on time should we not be able to secure a place.

Both of my sons walked into the management office and came out with a signed contract – both of them renewed their leases. Needless to say, we had to pay $400 to get out of that deal. Not sweet… But we learned a good lesson here.

Signing legal documents is not all bad. Just bother to get some consultation initially; you will catch on eventually. Signing contracts mean you can rent your own home, buy a car, or even buy a house (if you can afford one)

You Can Marry Without Parental Consent


The fifty States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico marriage laws require you to be 18 years of age before you can get married without parental consent. If you don’t mind my saying, unless your parents are complete deadbeats and you don’t want them in your life, …um, this may be a bad idea.

You Can Legally Keep Your Parents Out of Your Business

Tough pill for us parents to swallow, but yes. Turning 18 legally means that unless you consent, your parents do not have a right to access your medical records, school records, or any other private record. You can learn more about your privacy rights here. You can even obtain medical treatment without your parent’s consent.

Why Does My Mom Tell All My Business? Learn Why Here.

You Can Work Restricted Jobs

You may ask, what does turning 18 mean legally with respect to restricted jobs?

Hazardous Occupations. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD), which administers and enforces federal child labor laws, you must be 18 years old before working in hazardous occupations.

Bar-tending or Serving Alchohol. Also, you may not work as a bartender or serve alcohol at a restaurant unless you are 18 years of age or above. 26 States require you to have turned 18 before you can do this work. However, the other states vary from 19 – 21 years of age before one can serve alcohol.

Your Parents Can No Longer Control You Legally

Whoopee! You are finally free!!! And indeed you are, because guess what, your parents can no longer control you legally! I bet half of the individuals searching for answers to the question, “what does turning 18 mean legally?” should stop at this point because what could be better right?

In reality, parents can no longer tell you what to do. You are your own person and may do whatever you wish. Thoughtful young adults understand that parents may still be their support system economically, emotionally, and physically. So weigh these options carefully before burning any bridges. Most parents don’t seek to control but to guide after all.

what does turning 18 mean legally

You Can Move Out of Your Home

At 18, you can move out of your home without your parents calling the cops to report you as missing or a runaway. For the most part, many states also allow you to move out of your home at 16 or 17.

Turning 18 Responsibilities

What does turning 18 mean legally when looking at responsibilities, rights, and privileges?

You Can be Called to Serve on a Jury

The State can call on you, once your turn 18, to serve on a jury. This is a responsibility, and you must comply otherwise, there are penalties. You can be excused for specific reasons such as being enrolled in college, caring for a minor, or sickness.

If you are called to serve on a jury, take this seriously, read the notice you are mailed carefully, and respond accordingly. Failure to report to jury duty in most States is punishable by a fine, incarceration, or both.

You Are Responsible for Yourself

Your parents are no longer required to provide for you. Some parents don’t know this, so hush! if you are not ready to move out yet! But if you are, here are some tips for moving out.

On a serious note, once you turn 18, your parents are no longer required to provide you with food, clothing, or shelter. But, they are still required to provide education until you turn 24 unless you are an emancipated adult.

You Are Liable for Your Own Torts

Tort actions are civil court claims that hold you responsible for your wrongdoings (whether they are intentional, negligent, or fall under strict liability).

Say, for instance, your dog bites your neighbor; or your lawn mower picks up a rock and flings it at your neighbor’s foyer window, causing the glass to break; or you leave a banana peel on the floor while watching a movie, and a serviceman who is visiting your apartment slips on it, falls and breaks his arm.

These are all examples of possible torts actions that did not concern you before you were 18, as your parents will be held liable. But, as an 18-year-old, you can be tried for torts civilly, which may mean losing a good amount of money when you are found liable.

You Can Go To Jail For Your Own Crimes


When you commit a crime as a minor, you usually end up in a juvenile detention facility, even if you were tried as an adult. Once your turn 18, things become real. You will go to jail if you are found guilty of a crime and receive a jail sentence.

You Must Register for Selective Service (Males)

All young men must register for Selective Service once they turn 18 years old. All male U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and undocumented aliens must comply with this law.

You must complete the registration within 30 days of turning 18. Further, you can also register once you turn 17 years and three months old.

Rights and Privileges When You Turn 18

You Can Vote!

Yes, we can finally hear your voice in local, State, and Federal elections. 18-year-olds can participate in voting key persons into office in the United States.

You Can Sue or Be Sued in Court

Once you turn 18, you are considered old enough to take your claims to court. Others can sue you too, both civilly and criminally. This doesn’t mean that you could not be sued at a younger age, but depending on the severity of your crime, you can be sued as an adult. Civil suits can be brought on emancipated minors.

You Can Adopt a Child

Some really young people sometimes find that they would love the right to adopt a child. Some cases are seen in children in orphanages; when the oldest turns 18, they may wish to adopt their siblings. The good news is yes, they can.

Good So Far? What Else is Legal When you Turn 18?

As stated earlier, you can almost do everything except purchase and consume alcohol and nicotine once you turn 18. And we have listed out quite a few things that answer the question, what does turning 18 mean legally? But there is more.

At the age of 18, you can write your own will, have sex with those aged 18 and over legally, and get a driver’s license (although you can also do this at the age of 16).

Think of anything other adults are doing; you most likely can do these things too.

A Final Thought

Through research, we have answered your question, what does turning 18 mean legally? As thoroughly as we can. Now it is up to you to do your due diligence and find out what applies to you specifically in your State. Also, while enjoying the benefits of turning 18, do keep out of trouble.

Christopher Udeani and Christine Udeani, JD
Christopher Udeani and Christine Udeani, JD

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