18 Year Olds Can Do Lots of Things, Here are the 3 They Should Start With

We often talk about the new freedoms and responsibilities that await our teens when they turn 18. But there are 3 things that 18 year-olds absolutely must do when they come of age. 

  • Register to Vote
  • Complete Legal Forms
  • Register for the Selective Service 
18-year olds need to take care of several important things. (Shutterstock)

Here are 3 things 18 year olds should do

1. Register to Vote

Year after year young voters (18-29) cast ballots in lower numbers than their older counterparts. According to Sunshine Hillygus, a professor at Duke University, despite their high interest in civic activism young people often don’t vote because they are overwhelmed by the process. 

The first step is to register to vote. Some states may require voters to register as early as one month before Election Day. For more information regarding voter registration deadlines in your state click here. The Vote.org website (non-partisan) gives you a comprehensive state-by-state list with registration deadlines. The organization Rock the Vote also provides detailed information on state registration deadlines and upcoming elections.

If you think you’ve already registered to vote but are unsure, Vote.org has a form you can fill out which checks your registration status instantly. If your registration isn’t complete you can fill out this form from Vote.org or this form from NextGen America. It takes two minutes. 

Once you are registered you can either vote in person or by mail. 

For information about vote by mail where you currently live, select your state from the dropdown menu here. Every state’s election rules are different, but Can I Vote takes you right to your state’s Absentee and Early Voting page where you can Request An Absentee Ballot. Because state laws vary, if there is an issue, contact your local election office for help getting a mail-in or absentee ballot.

Once you get your mail-in/absentee ballot, fill it out. Take a few minutes to read the instructions on your ballot carefully and make sure you fill it out correctly. Some states have an envelope within an envelope so you will fill out your ballot, put it in an inner envelope and then in an outer envelope, sign it and send. 

Follow the instructions on your ballot carefully. It matters. 

Throw your completed ballot back in the regular mail. In some states postage is prepaid and in others you will need to affix a stamp. In the last election many states are providing ballot drop box locations where you can drop your ballot. Call your local post office or Google “ballot drop boxes” in your state and county for your drop box locations.

If you are planning to vote in person, go to vote.org and pick your state and then enter your street address. You will be told where you must physically cast your vote, what the hours of your polling place are and when the next vote takes place. This can’t be easier. 

Figure out transportation to your polling place ahead of time. Get there early. Be patient. Bring a photo ID if you have one. Prepare to wait. And, not to sound like a mom but dress for the weather, bring a snack and this year, your mask. 

Voting machines vary but there will be poll workers there to guide you. There is zero shame in not knowing how to use the machine. Zero.

Another option: Many states allow early in-person voting. Here is a list of those states. To sign up for early in-person voting, contact your state election office here.

College students can legally choose to vote where they go to school or their hometown. Just remember if you are away at school let’s say in New Jersey but your “home” is Rhode Island, and you choose to register in Rhode Island you will need an Absentee ballot. Again, here is the Voter Registration Tool to register to vote in less than 2 minutes.

Student voters should not have a hard time trying to register to vote at school. It is their legal right. If anyone gives you trouble contact the Election Protection Coalition and explain what is happening. Their phone number is: 866-our-vote. They will be able to help you.

Young people’s voices must be heard. If you have additional questions, Plan Your Vote is an excellent resource which will give you all the information you need.

Before your 18-year-old heads out the door, ensure you have the legal documents to protect her. Accidents and illnesses happen to everyone, including young adults, and you want to be able to speak to healthcare providers, keep informed and help make decisions for your teen once they leave home. 

Here’s what you need to know when your teen turns 18. Three forms facilitate the involvement of a parent (or whoever is designated) in an emergency or other situation.

What You May Need In A Medical Emergency

1. Health Care Proxy (also referred to as a healthcare agent or medical power of attorney, a healthcare power of attorney, or durable power of attorney for health care)

This authorizes someone to make medical decisions on your teen’s behalf, giving you access to their medical records and the ability to converse with their medical healthcare providers. By signing a healthcare proxy, your teen is appointing you to act on your behalf in making medical decisions in case you cannot make those decisions for yourself.

Each state has different laws that govern the execution of a healthcare proxy (state laws differ on whether a medical proxy has to be notarized or merely witnessed). And, therefore the legal form you sign will be specific to the state where it will be used. HIPAA authorization is rolled into the standard medical proxy form in many states. In addition, a healthcare proxy can include a Living Will, or you can execute a separate document stating your wishes for end-of-life medical treatment.

Follow our link here and get 20% off your documents.


2. HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) authorization (also called a HIPAA release)

This is a more narrow document in that it permits healthcare providers to disclose your teen’s healthcare information to you or anyone they specify.

This document alone will often suffice to get information from the healthcare institution treating your child. In a HIPAA authorization, young adults can stipulate that they don’t want to disclose information about sex, drugs, mental health, or other details that they prefer to keep private. As with the broader healthcare proxy, a HIPAA release can include a Living Will.

3. Durable Power of Attorney (Durable POA)

This enables a designated agent (in this case, a parent) to make financial decisions on the student’s behalf. The POA can provide that power vests in you immediately after signing the document or only if your child becomes incapacitated.

The POA enables the designated agent to, among other things, sign tax returns, access bank accounts, pay bills, make changes to your child’s financial aid package, or figure out tuition problems. Durable POA forms vary by state. In some states, the medical POA (or, as we called it, the healthcare proxy) can be included in the Durable POA.

Each state has variations on these forms and how they can be combined, so you MUST consult your state’s laws or speak to a local attorney who practices in this field.

As parents, we always hope we won’t need these forms, but it’s always better to be prepared if you do.

3. Register for the Selective Service 

Current law requires that with a few exceptions, every male citizen and immigrant (documented or undocumented) between the ages of 18-25 must register with the Selective Service. Men are required to register during a 60 day registration period, within 30 days of their 18th birthday (30 days before until 29 days after their 18th birthday). 

Also, registrants must let the Selective Service know within 10 days of any changes in the information provided in their original registration until they turn 26. Those who register for the Selective Service form the prospective pool of people who might be drafted if the draft is reinstated.

Q: How Do I Register for the Selective Service and Are You Automatically Registered at 18?

There are several ways to register. You can register online using the Selective Service Registration website if you are a United States citizen with a valid social security number. If you are a citizen who has not recently moved you will get a registration card on or about your 18th birthday. Simply fill that card out and put it back in the mail.

In addition, you can register through your application for financial aid via the Free Application for Federal Student Financial Aid (FAFSA) by checking “yes” where appropriate. You will then automatically be registered for the Selective Service. 

Finally, any man, regardless of citizenship, visa or immigration status can register at any U.S. post office. Within 90 days of registering you should receive confirmation of your registration. If you do not, please call the Selective Service and tell them you did not receive confirmation.

Q: What If I Miss the Deadline to Register for the Selective Service?

If a man does not register within the specified time period, he is technically in violation of the law. However, late registration with no consequences is allowed until a man turns 26 years old. At that point it is too late to register. 

Q: What If I Fail to Register for the Selective Service by the Age of 26?

Failure to register by the age of 26 can make a person ineligible for federal student loans and grants, certain federal job training, federal jobs or security clearance. In the case of immigrants, U.S. citizenship may be denied. These are federal consequences but Individual states may also have their own sanctions for failure to register, including, in some states, the inability to get a driver’s license, jail time and/or a fine (you need to check your individual state’s laws).

Q: If I Register Will I be Drafted?

Registration does NOT necessarily mean that you will be drafted. In the event of a draft, registered males will be selected by random lottery and birth year. Candidates will then be examined for mental, physical, and moral fitness by the military before either being deferred, exempted from, or inducted into the Armed Forces.

Q: Do I Have Recourse If I Did Not Register?

If you did not register by your 26th birthday and are suffering the consequences, you have some recourse. You can explain to the official handling your case why you failed to register. You have the burden of proving that your failure to register was not knowing or willful. Some agencies may ask you to provide an official response, or Status Information Letter, from the Selective Service indicating if you were or were not required to register.

Q: Who Does NOT Have to Register for Selective Service?

  • Women
  • Any male resident above the age of 26
  • Residents of American Samoa who have never lived in the US
  • Active duty military personnel
  • Hospitalized, incarcerated, or imprisoned men (though they must apply within 30 days of release)
  • US residents on student or visitor visas
  • Individuals living in the US as part of a diplomatic or trade mission 
  • Individuals who are born female and choose to realign as men

More Resources:

Selective Service

Voter Registration Information and Deadlines

The Legal Documents You Need When Your Child Turns 18

About Helene Wingens

Helene Wingens has always been passionate about painting pictures with words. She graduated from Brandeis University with a degree in psychology and three years later from Boston University School of Law with a Juris Doctor. In a year long clerkship for an appellate judge Helene honed her writing skills by drafting weekly appellate memoranda. She practiced law until she practically perfected it and after taking a brief twenty year hiatus to raise her three children she began writing a personal blog Her essays have been published in: Scary Mommy, Kveller, The Forward, and Grown and Flown where she is Managing Editor. You can visit Helene's website here

Read more posts by Helene

Don't miss out!
Want more like this? Get updates about parenting teens and young adults straight to your inbox.