Do children and teenagers have constitutional rights?

By: Chanel Lee

The Constitutional Rights of the Student

Although children and teens enjoy the same rights as their elders, the Supreme Court has repeatedly limited student rights to free speech and expression in school. The Court has also upheld censorship of school newspapers and suspensions of students for inappropriate language and behavior. Schools have even been allowed to search students' private property without probable cause [source: FindLaw]. In that particular case, New Jersey v. T.L.O., the Court found that a school's responsibility to educate and protect children trumps student privacy, and allows school authorities more leeway than the police would have outside school [source: Dorf]. The court ruled on that case in 1985, but student rights have been further restricted since then.

More recently, the High Court has allowed school officials to punish students for behavior outside school grounds [source: Supreme Court of the United States]. In November 2010, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli even issued an official opinion advocating the search of students' personal cell phones and laptops if there's "a reasonable suspicion that the student is violating the law or the rules of the school" [source: McNeill].


Children and adults share many of the same rights under the law, but the exceptions to the rule make it clear that most children lack the maturity to truly understand what having those rights actually entails. What does it really mean to be able to vote, marry or have due process in a court of law? Does that understanding depend solely on one's birthday? Should it?

For more information on children and the Supreme Court, see the links below.

Related Articles


  • Dorf, Michael C. "What Constitutional Rights Should Schoolchildren Have? Two Recent Cases Underscore the Ways in Which Children Are Not Simply Miniature Adults." FindLaw. March 23, 2009. (Dec. 7, 2010)
  • FindLaw. "New Jersey v. T.L.O." Jan. 15, 1985. (Dec. 13, 2010)
  • McNeill, Brian. "Cuccinelli OK with searches of student phones, laptops." Media General News Service. Nov. 26, 2010. (Dec. 9, 2010)
  • Supreme Court of the United States. "Safford United School District #1, et al. v. Redding." June 25, 2009. Legal Information Institute, Cornell University Law School. (Dec. 7, 2010)
  • Supreme Court of the United States. "Deborah Morse, et al. v. Joseph Frederick." June 25, 2007. (Dec. 10, 2010)