Written by Claudia Gilburd, Founder of Teen Law School, Inc.
©2011 Teen Law School, Inc

It’s ironic that teens spend so much time in school learning about the Constitution and Bill of Rights which provide our basic American liberties but then so readily abandon their civil rights when confronted by authorities.   Time after time in Teen Law School seminars, we have encountered kids who unintentionally and unknowingly waived their basic legal rights in situations with police that resulted in unnecessary arrests.   Had these teens known in advance how to behave in the situations they found themselves in, they might well have avoided the heartache and hassle of an arrest and juvenile record.  To that end, we’ve recently expanded our teen seminars to include instruction on protecting legal rights, because when teens don’t know their rights, they don’t have any.

While minors don’t enjoy every Constitutional right bestowed upon adult citizens, they do share two of the most important rights, the right not to self incriminate (5th Amendment) and the right to representation by an attorney (6th Amendment).   Their 4th Amendment protection against unnecessary search and seizure is limited by the special interests of school administrators who have a higher obligation to protect the safety and smooth running of their schools.  In school, for instance,  administrators can search lockers, personal effects, cars and pockets with only “reasonable suspicion” that a violation has or is about to be committed, whereas police cannot search on campus without “probable cause” that a crime has or is about to be committed.  Knowing the difference isn’t as critical to students as knowing that the difference exists.  If more young people understood just how vulnerable they are to search at school, they might be less likely to bring contraband to school.  Instead, many students mistakenly think that bringing drugs, alcohol and weapons to school is smarter than leaving them at home where they might be discovered by a sibling or parent.  In fact, being found in possession of drugs, alcohol or weapons on federally protected school grounds is extremely serious, often resulting in long term suspension, expulsion and criminal charges.

Similarly, the courts have ruled that schools can limit the 1st Amendment rights of students to self expression.  Consequently, school districts are empowered to write their own Codes of Conduct which can include dress codes banning whatever the district deems disruptive to the safe running of the school.   Finally, the 1st Amendment right to assembly is routinely limited for minors by cities and towns who can create curfew ordinances in their jurisdictions.

These are among the essential facts that teens must understand about their legal rights.  In Teen Law School seminars, we teach five essential responses that teens must learn and practice to use for their own protection should they ever find themselves in direct contact with or being interviewed by police or school authorities.  We role play traffic stops in groups of teens, giving each member the confidence and clarity to behave in the most respectful, polite fashion possible while maintaining their cool and protecting their rights.  We support the use of Legal Shield benefits from Pre-Paid Legal, and encourage teens to carry their Legal Shield card with them whenever they leave their homes for school, work or play.  Unfortunately in today’s zero tolerance legal environment there can be little warning before very serious problems occur in a young person’s life. 

Your Family and The Law is written by Claudia Gilburd, Founder of Teen Law School.  Teen Law School seminars teach teens about the laws that govern typical teen behavior.  Seminars also teach powerful peer pressure resistance strategies and essential information for legal rights protection.  To learn more about Teen Law School seminars or to enroll your child in one, please visit http://www.teenlawschool.com.