when your child turns 18

What Happens When Your Child Turns 18?

Suddenly, they are adults (ok, legally, they are adults). As parents, we might not really understand what that means. Yes, we know they can vote and buy lottery tickets. Did you know 18-year-olds can also get a Costco card or be called for jury duty? (Click here for a list of 50 things 18-year-olds can now do.) But we likely still pay many of their expenses (food!) and claim them on our taxes. Parents need to understand some serious changes that take place when your child turns 18 (OR when they leave for college when they are less than 18). That 18th birthday is a turning point for issues of privacy and responsibility, and parents will want to take some proactive steps.

Register to Vote

Click here to find your state and take this important step into adulthood!

Registering for Selective Service

Not all parents think of this right away. No one will poke you and remind your son to get registered for Selective Service, but it is still a serious responsibility that needs to be completed.

Selective Service registration is required for male US citizens and documented and undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Men at least 18 but not yet 26 are included in this group. (Click here for the complete list of those who must register.)

If your child turns 18 while in high school AND is taking College Credit Plus courses, be aware that they are required to provide their Selective Service number to the college within 30 days of their 18th birthday. If they do not, the college will charge the parents for the tuition, textbooks, and fees. (Details in this FAQ – Eligibility/Participation section.)

Click here to register for Selective Service.

Privacy, Grades, and Being Cut Out of the Loop

Parents need to understand FERPA. (What a weird acronym when said out loud!) FERPA is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974. It protects the privacy of a student’s educational records. Before they are 18, the rights belong to the parent. But after they turn 18 or once they begin post-secondary school or college even if they are not yet 18, the rights are transferred to the student. Students have complete control over access to their GPA, academic transcript, disciplinary matters, and financial information.

What does this mean for parents? It means that unless your student has given you permission, you cannot check their grades, be notified if they get in trouble with the school, or even see if they are attending classes (even if you are paying for it).

Every college has a FERPA release authorization which allows students to give their parents access to this information. Parents and students can have a conversation about what FERPA is and your family’s decisions about access.

Most colleges have a sort of online dashboard for students with all their records in one spot—grades, course schedule, billing information, etc. Colleges often have a way for students to provide access to this dashboard. As an example, here is how Ohio State handles access.

The first time you may encounter FERPA is on the Common App college application. Students are asked to waive their FERPA rights in order for the high school to send their transcript to any colleges they apply to. It also tells the college that the student does not intend to read the letters of recommendation submitted on their behalf.

Medical Concerns

The scariest part of this turning 18 conversation for a parent is the prospect of being left out of medical decisions for their child. Despite the age, our children are probably not ready to make these kinds of decisions for themselves, and if they are incapacitated, we don’t want strangers making those decisions. Parents need three items to cover all their bases: a HIPAA release, a Health Care Power of Attorney, and a Living Will.


HIPAA is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. Included in its many provisions is privacy protection of all our health information. Once a student turns 18, they are an adult. The HIPAA rules prevent health practitioners from sharing our child’s health records. Even though the student is on our health insurance, we can’t talk to the health insurance company about them without a HIPAA release. It can be quite frustrating.

A HIPAA release authorizes the medical providers or health insurance company to release medical information to the parents. The college may have a form to fill out. Some release forms can vary by state, so keep that in mind if your student attends a college out-of-state.

Click here for a site that will help you create one for any state.

Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will

The Health Care Power of Attorney or health care proxy gives parents permission to make medical decisions if a student is unable to make decisions on their own. If a student is admitted to the hospital but is unable to make decisions, parents need the peace of mind knowing that they can make those decisions for their age-18-or-older child.

The Living Will or advanced health care directive outlines the wishes of the student regarding life-extending treatment, including pain management and organ donation. It directs the medical staff on their end-of-life wishes should they be unable to communicate.

Different states have different formats for these forms. This website allows you to choose your state and complete the information step-by-step for a Health Care Power of Attorney and/or Living Will.

Be sure to have PDFs of these signed health care documents somewhere where you can easily access them electronically when away from home.

(Side note: families may want to explore a Durable Power of Attorney which gives the designated person, like a parent, control over the student’s financial affairs if necessary.)

Finally, we don’t claim to be attorneys. For questions regarding any of these legal matters, please seek out the appropriate professional assistance.

Off Topic for a Moment

Slightly off topic for a moment but related to health concerns and leaving for college. Most students do not have any experience with taking care of themselves once they leave home. What should they do if they get sick? When do they go to the health clinic? When do they seek out a doctor? What doctor should they visit? What over-the-counter medicines work for minor things like colds and headaches? All of these are important topics to talk through before your child leaves for college.

Give them practice calling a doctor to make an appointment. Make a “for when you are sick” box of items together with them. Make sure they understand their health insurance (the basics anyway) and have a copy of their insurance card.

Finally, stay in touch with them about their mental health as well. Going to college is stressful and keeping those lines of communication open is so important to monitoring their mental health. We love when families do an online meeting (Skype or Zoom, etc.) once a week to actually see your kiddo, especially that first year.

Turning 18 is a time to celebrate…

…and it is a time to have some meaningful conversations about what it means to be an adult. Continuing communication about any privacy and health matters is the key.

Enjoy this post? Don’t want to miss any future blogs about education, college, or careers?