Confidentiality Issues RE: 16 & 17 Year Olds
TN Law (See TCA 33-8-202) gives children ages 16 and 17 with “serious emotional
disturbance “ or mental illness the same rights of privacy as adults with some exceptions.  
This means that TN Law gives 16 and 17 year olds who qualify the right to initiate therapy or
counseling and the right to privacy of their health records.  This also means that parents do
not have rights to know when their 16 or 17 year old attends therapy, the goals of therapy,
progress of therapy, issues discussed, or records related to therapy, unless given the rights
by the 16 or 17 year old child.  

When counseling 16 or 17 year old children, ECS therapists generally attempt to secure
clarification of confidentiality rights with both the child and at least one parent unless the child
who qualifies chooses not to.   To achieve this clarification of privacy rights, the 16 or 17 year
old would complete a release form that clarifies the limits of confidentiality.  There are pros
and cons with lesser or greater limits of confidentiality.  The more confidentiality a child has,
the more he or she would be free to be open with his or her therapist without fear of parent
intervention, discipline or reprisal.  However, potentially risky behaviors, such as, drug use,
sex, or illegal activities would not be made known to parents.  If the child agrees to lower limits
of confidentiality, the therapist could inform the parent(s) of risky behaviors, but the child may
hold back on disclosure.