‘So You’re 18’
FRONT ROYAL — Wednesday morning at Warren County High School, members of the Warren County Bar welcomed seniors to the wonderful world of being an adult.
“So You’re 18” — a program encouraged by the Virginia State Bar and the Conference of Local Bar Associations — made its first appearance this year at Warren High School, Skyline High School, Brighter Futures and Diversified Minds.
Exciting as it can be turning 18 and being able to vote, give blood, sell alcohol in stores and move out on their own, many area teens might not realize the full impact of the milestone birthday. Much of what they learned Wednesday was how they might consider the consequences of their actions before making decisions that impact their lives forever.
Read the fine print before purchasing an expensive item or signing a lease or car agreement, said John Bell, criminal defense attorney.
“Virginia is a state that assumes that you’re an adult and can look out for yourself,” he said.
“We have a saying: The large print giveth and the small print taketh away,” he explained. When a consumer disputes a sale as fraudulent, he said, “It’s just your word against theirs.”
Adults moving in with roommates should also realize they might be accountable for the entire lease agreement should their friends bail on their responsibilities of paying their fair share.
Likewise, co-signing for a car or home is almost never a good idea, said Judge William Sharp, of juvenile and domestic relations district court.
Co-signing, he explained, is like saying, “Don’t worry, if she doesn’t pay it, I will.”
And before having sex, cautioned David Silek, defense attorney and domestic relations attorney, young adults and teens should consider the person they’re with and what the next 18 years raising a child with that person might look like.
“Y’all are laughing, but you know it’s also true,” he said.
Sharp agreed, warning of the very real possibility of years of custody battles and child support demands.
“Don’t come in and tell me this child was an accident,” he said. “There’s going to be a legal obligation for that child.”
Teens preparing for the job market should consider the consequences of quitting their job before they’ve lined up another one.
Employers operating under Virginia’s “at will” employment rule can fire employees for any reason, as long as their reasons aren’t discriminatory. Quitting instead of being fired might seem like a way of saving face in the moment, Sharp said, but it also means forfeiting the option of applying for unemployment benefits while looking for a new job.
Parents paying child support should also think before quitting a job they hate for a more rewarding yet lower paying job, since they might not realize their child support payments will continue to reflect the previous, higher income.
From the law’s viewpoint, Sharp said, “You can do that job, you had that job, you could have kept that job.”
Unlike in the case of cars or apartments, those who don’t pay their child support can go to jail, he said, and even in jail, they’ll still owe child support.
“The idea, of course, is you’re not supposed to go to jail,” he said, earning laughs from the listening seniors. “That was your fault.”
Silek surprised listeners by telling them to keep quiet at traffic stops or searches by law enforcement.
“Don’t believe what they say, ’cause they’re legally allowed to lie,” he said.
Challenging him with a laugh, Officer Robbie Seal of the Front Royal Police, quipped, “I call it creative dialogue.”
The program also cautioned against posting stupid stuff online where potential employers might see it and decide you’re not mature enough to hire and warned about possessing, manufacturing and distributing child pornography — all felony counts even if they’re only the result of texting nude photos with an underage significant other.
“When you’re 18,” Sharp said, “there are few second chances after this. You are considered responsible for your actions and you have to face the consequences … and you have to choose wisely.”
Praising the program, Director of School Counseling Amy Hartley said although it wasn’t mandatory, she hoped all seniors would attend.
“The teachers are already saying ‘I hope we can do this next year,'” she said minutes after the program ended.
“It was a good thing for them to hear,” she added. “We’re really glad that we were able to bring this information to the seniors.”
Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or email@example.com