Beginning to date can be very challenging to tackle, not just for teenagers, but also for their parents. As frightening as this time may be, it could also be a time of training and helping minors form healthy relationships. It is the job of parents in this endeavour to be informed about laws that could affect the choices that they help their young people make to ensure that their first experiences with dating are positive and safe.
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In general, minors are considered to be people who are under 18 years of age; at 18, people assume most adult legal rights except for the purchase of alcoholic beverages. However, each state has its own laws that define the age of consent, or the time when a person is old enough "to willingly engage in a sexual act." Be aware of the legal age of consent in your state. All states set the age of consent from 14 to 18; in more than half of the states, the age is 16. Sexlaws.org/answer_board is a good place to find the age of consent for your state as well as answers to other questions about minor relationships.
Visit law.cornell.edu/ to see minor laws specific to your state. There you can find that in the state of Georgia, "a person commits the offence of statutory rape when he or she engages in sexual intercourse with any person under the age of 16 years and is not his or her spouse." The law goes on to spell out that "if the victim is at least 14 but less than 16 years of age and the person convicted of statutory rape is 18 or younger and is no more than four years older than the victim, such person shall be guilty of a misdemeanour." This means that a 17-year-old convicted of having sexual contact with a 14-year-old in Georgia, would be guilty of a misdemeanour.
It is normal for older teens to be attracted to younger teens, but parents and teens should be aware of certain stipulations in the law. As long as there is no sexual contact, the teens are free to date platonically, although common sense should rule parents' judgment in this situation. Rarely does a 14-year-old have much in common with an 18- or a 19-year-old, and parents should ensure that their teen is not involved in such an imbalanced relationship.
One family in Georgia experienced the importance of being careful of the law. Genarlow Wilson, 17, engaged in oral sex with a consenting 15-year-old girl and was convicted of aggravated child molestation. Before his lawyers were finally able to get the Georgia Supreme Court to hear his case and rule that his 10-year sentence was cruel and unusual, this former scholarship student had spent two years in prison. (At the time, the Georgia law allowing similarity of age to be taken into account applied only to vaginal sex, not oral sex.) Both sets of parents could have helped to avoid this horrendous incident by training and teaching their teens about the law, but more importantly about boundaries, and about building healthy relationships through respect for themselves and respect for others.
At sexlaws.org, Aurelia Williams talks about different things that parents can do to help their teen avoid pitfalls in dating and form healthy relationships. Set rules so teenagers know the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. Teach children about giving and demanding respectful treatment. Finally, group dating is the best way to introduce teens to the dating world without too much pressure. Following these guidelines and understanding the law will help minors learn to date safely.
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