Teen Rights


Activities will help students:

  • define the idea of teen rights
  • become familiar with human rights violations toward teens
  • explore ways to responsibly promote and encourage teen rights

Essential Questions: 

  • What are teen rights?
  • What should teens be allowed to decide or do for themselves?
  • How can adolescents promote teen rights in a positive way?

Adolescence is a time of great transition, partway between childhood and adulthood. While definitely not children anymore, teenagers are also not considered adults and therefore don’t often have the rights that many adults have. This can lead to struggles for many adolescents. All too often, teens who don’t seem to fit in with the mainstream can find their rights being violated.

Professional Development


rights | rahyts |
(noun) the individual freedom to do something (or not to do something)

violate | vahy-uh-leyt  |
(verb) to break (as in rules)

Additional Resources


1. (Write the following words on the board: Life, Liberty, Happiness.) Work with a partner to discuss the following questions: 

a)     What do the words “life, liberty, and happiness” usually represent? (If students struggle, lead them to the answer that many people consider these to be basic human rights.)

b)    Are there any other human rights?

c)     Do these rights apply only to adults?

d)    What are teen rights?

e)     Create a list of what teens can and can’t do.

(If students have difficulty with this activity, offer the following examples of what many teens can’t do: drink, vote, drive.)

2. Some people do not think teens should have the same rights as adults for different reasons, such as “teens are too immature to handle too much responsibility” or “teens should be protected.” Conduct a dialogue (see The Magic of Dialogue for a list of 15 strategies for successful dialogue) about teen rights. Form groups of four. Choose two students in your group to fully examine the points of view of Side 1. The other two students should fully examine the points of view of Side 2.

Side 1: Adult rights and teen rights should be the same.

Side 2: Adult rights and teen rights should be different.

For each side:

a)      Plan your strategy. List at least three reasons to support your position.

b)     Side 1 has two minutes to state its position.

c)      Side 2 then has two minutes to offer its position.

d)     Now hold a dialogue between both sides, and attempt to find common understanding and value in the other position: an agreement.

e)      Reflect on your process.

3. Now you will read two articles. Both articles are examples of times when people felt that teen rights were violated.

a) The first article, Constance McMillen, Focus of “Lesbian Prom” Fight, Wins Discrimination Settlement, discusses the teen right of taking part in school activities. After you’ve read about Constance McMillen, turn to your partner and discuss the following:

  • What right was Constance McMillen trying to protect? (Answer: She wanted to attend the prom like all other students at her school.)
  •  Do you agree that this should be a teen right? Why or why not?
  •  Do you know of any other instances of discrimination toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender teens?

b) The second article, 6 Teenagers Are Charged After Classmate’s Suicide, deals with harassment at school:

After you’ve read about Phoebe Prince, turn to your partner and discuss the following:

  • What right was violated in the case of Phoebe Prince? (Answer: She wanted to go to school free from the harassment of bullies.)
  •  Do you agree that this case was a violation of a teen right? Why or why not?
  •  The article mentions that Phoebe Prince recently came to the United States from Ireland. In your opinion, what role did this fact play in the violation of her rights?
  •  Do you know of any other instances of teen rights being violated because of race or ethnicity?

4. The articles you just read are two examples of cases involving teen rights. Read the following article (originally published by Scholastic’s The New York Times Upfront magazine): 10 Supreme Court Cases Every Teen Should Know.

5. After examining the court cases about teen rights, work with your partner to decide what you think teen rights should be. Together write a list of teen rights. Use the articles you read as inspiration.

6. Post your team’s list around the room to share with your class. As a class, discuss:

a) How were all of the lists of teen rights similar? How were they different?

b) What other teen rights can you think of to add to your lists?

c) How can you promote an environment (in your home, school, and community) that protects and promotes these teen rights?

Extension Activity: 

  • Think about what teen rights violations are possibly happening in your own community. How can you spread awareness and respect for teen rights in a positive way?
  • With permission of your school administration, start a teen rights campaign at your school. Work with teachers, school administrators, and other adults in your community to promote teen rights.
  • Do more research on the cases of Constance McMillen and Phoebe Prince to learn about teen rights violations happening right now.