14-year-old Caroline received a nude picture on her phone from her friend, Maggie. Caroline was in shock because she never asked to receive the photo. She asked her friend Matt what she should do, and Matt took a picture of the photo and sent it to some of his friends. Caroline is still unsure of how to handle the situation, and is worried that she will get in trouble, too. Can Caroline get in trouble for receiving the photo and showing it to Matt? Can Maggie and Matt get in trouble? Can the people who Matt sent the photo to get in trouble, too?
Tim, 15, has been feeling depressed lately. His mom recently remarried, and his only sibling left for college. His best friend, Mark, could tell something had changed. Over the last few weeks, he’s noticed Tim seems tired and sad. Mark tries to talk to Tim about it, but Tim gets annoyed. A few days later, Tim tells Mark the changes in his life aren't going well. He says feels like nothing is the same; he feels alone. Mark asks Tim if he’s talked to his mom about it, but Tim says he doesn’t want to. He thinks she won’t understand what he is going through, and he doesn’t want to make it seem like he’s angry at her for getting re-married. Tim quickly ends the conversation, but a few nights later Mark texts Tim, saying that he knows of someone else in a similar situation who went to see a therapist to help get him through a rough time. Tim thinks that it might help, especially since he’s a private person. But he wouldn’t want anybody to know. Can he get counseling without his mother knowing or consenting? Will his therapist keep details of treatment private?
Susie, a freshman in high school, recently started having sex with her boyfriend. She doesn't want to be pregnant at this point in her life, so she got a prescription for birth control pills from a local clinic. Because she's on the pill, she and her boyfriend didn't think they had to use condoms. Now Susie is having terrible stomach pains and also pain while urinating, and wonders if the pill is making her sick. She is afraid to tell her parents, so she goes to the clinic with her boyfriend for an appointment. A clinic physician asks Susie about her symptoms, and recommends that she and her boyfriend get tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Can Susie and her boyfriend get tested for STDs without their parents’ permission? If the tests come back positive, can they get treatment for STDs without their parents' knowledge?
Pregnancy Testing & Abortion
Caroline could be charged with a Summary Offense because she knowingly possessed a sexually explicit image of someone 12-17 years old (Maggie). Although she did not knowingly view the sexually explicit image, she showed it to another person and did not delete it right away.
Maggie could be charged with a Summary Offense because she sent a sexually explicit image of herself, and she is between 12 and 17 years of age.
Matt could be charged with a 2nd Degree Misdemeanor. Matt shared a sexually explicit image of someone 12-17 years old that was not himself. He did not have permission from the photographed minor (Maggie) to do so, and the image showed the minor in a state of nudity. Therefore, he could be charged with the most severe of the three possible legal consequences of sexting.
Matt’s friends, to whom he sent the photo, could not be charged with a Summary Offense if they delete the photo of Maggie right away.
Malika and her boyfriend are sexually active, and typically use condoms they can pick up for free at a local clinic. But a few times they didn't, and recently, Malika has been feeling more tired than usual and is sometimes sick. A friend jokes with her that she's pregnant, and Malika starts to wonder. Together, they go to the same clinic where they get condoms and she asks if she can get a pregnancy test. A clinic worker tells her she can and that it will be confidential; nobody will have to find out about the test or its results unless she wants to tell them. Malika goes ahead with the test, which comes back positive. What are her options?
If Tim is referred by a doctor for counseling (outpatient psychological treatment), he does not need his mom's permission and his doctor cannot share any information about his treatment with his parents, without his permission. Tim can get help without his mother knowing or consenting. See our mental health page for more information on what would happen if Tim's mom had been the first to give permission for Tim to get counseling.
Understanding your rights as a minor can be tricky, especially when making difficult decisions about your health care.
Below are stories from other young people that may help answer your questions about your rights as a teen in Pennsylvania. Don't forget to check the Find Help page to find out where you can go in your community for more information and help!
Malika talks with a counselor at the clinic about her options. She knows she’s not ready to care for a baby. Because she’s not yet 18 years old, she can’t have an abortion in Pennsylvania unless she gets a parent's permission or a judge's order granting her permission. If Malika can’t get or doesn't want to get permission from one of her parents, the clinic can help her through the process of getting a judge’s order (called “judicial bypass”). The counselor also explains that Malika could have an abortion in New York or New Jersey without having to get her parent's permission or judicial bypass.
The counselor tells Malika that she also has the option to have the baby and then put the baby up for adoption. If she chooses to do this, Malika will have the right to make all of her healthcare decisions during her pregnancy without her parent's consent. She also does not need her parent's permission to put her child up for adoption.
Even though they are under 18, Susie and her boyfriend do not need their parents’ permission to be tested for STDs. They both agree to get tested, and the tests come back positive for gonorrhea. The doctor recommends that they get treated right away and that they always use condoms in the future to protect against STDs. Susie and her boyfriend are also able to get treatment for gonorrhea without their parents’ consent.