Most parents think that the “terrible twos” are the hardest years with a child — until their child becomes a teenager. Suddenly, you realize that your child is often out there in the world without adult supervision.

That’s just part of the process of growing up. So is sexual experimentation. As a parent, you hope that your teen will behave in a responsible manner. However, your teens need to understand the rules about the age of consent for sexual activity among minors when they’re making decisions about romantic partners.

Here are the rules about minors and the ability to legally consent to sexual activity:

  • Children 13 years of age or younger cannot legally consent to sexual activity with anyone of any age
  • 14-year-olds can consent to sexual activity with partners 18 years of age and younger
  • 15-year-olds can consent to sex with partners 19-years-old and younger
  • 16-year-olds can consent to sex with someone 20-years-old or younger
  • At 17 years of age, teens are free to consent to sex just like an adult

These shifting boundaries for teens and young adults can be confusing — but the potential penalties for not following the rules can be fierce. For example, if a 19-year-old has sex with a 14-year-old partner, the older teen can be convicted of child molestation in the fourth degree, which is a felony that is punishable by jail time, fines and forced registration as a sex offender.

No teenager should have to endure a lifetime of consequences for a consensual relationship with another teen — but it does happen. If your teen or young adult is facing charges related to a relationship with an underage partner, get experienced legal assistance right away.