A friend asked me last night about whether I’d ever written about my stance on children, tattoos and piercings and I realized that I haven’t, even though I’ve mentioned it in passing once or twice. To start out, a few data points: I have no tattoos, but I do have a pierced ear. No other piercings, though. My kids don’t have any tattoos and only my 15yo has pierced ears. Lots and lots of my friends have body art, however, and some have additional piercings, through a nostril, running up their ears, belly buttons, nipples, and probably other places I’m — blissfully — not aware of.
I’m certainly not against tattoos as a form of personal expression, but as a parent, I am against my children doing things that they’ll have to live with for the rest of their lives. A piercing is actually easier because it will heal and “go away” if you just pull out the stud and leave it alone for a few years. But tattoos? Especially those in highly visible spots like your hands, arms, legs, neck or face, you’ll be carrying them around with you for the rest of your life, even as they fade and start to distort as your skin quite naturally loses elasticity. What’s cool and a powerful statement of who you are at 19 can easily become what you’re embarrassed about and pray will just vanish when you’re in your 30s and might end up causing you to undergo painful laser reconstruction surgery in your 40s just to get it off.
What the industry needs are really great, clean, colorfast tattoo technologies that look great for a year or longer, but then wash off as enough layers of your skin slough off. That’s not an option so more than just about anything, tattoos are essentially a permanent form of personal expression and body art.
As a result, my position with my kids is that it’s off-limits until they’re of a legal age to make their own decisions about their lives, probably 18 but certainly once they’re traveling their own road. And even then, I will strongly hope that they don’t have any visible tattoos like the circus-sideshow people I occasionally see where an entire limb, or more, are completely covered with tattoos. I’m fine with that person having those tattoos even if I personally find it unappealing and sometimes appalling, but it’s not my place to judge them and I don’t.
Outside of health considerations, and there are a lot of them, I think that it’s the minority of teens who realize just how much visible tattoos change how you’re perceived by the world at large, and that facial, neck or hand tattoos are going to be an obstacle for their professional life in just about every job they might want to pursue. A tattoo might be cool, as might a lip or eyebrow piercing, but my goal as a Dad is to set my children up for the most successful, happiest possible lives they can have as adults. What they do once they get to adulthood is out of my hands, but along the road, no thanks, we’ll be skipping any tattoos and piercings other than one – or maybe two – ear piercings.
If they’re hard-core then a way to get a “taste” of having a tattoo is to get a good henna tattoo. For a week or two, it looks good (if done right) then it fades away. Smart, even if not quite as colorful. But temporary = good. In that same vein, if my kids want to color their hair, either brunette to blonde or vice versa, or a more garish color, that’s fine with me, though our school prohibits it until 10th grade, I believe. Again, even the most radical dye job — or haircut! — grows out in a few months or so, so it’s not permanent.
It’s the permanence of tattoos that concern me the most. What you think is cool as a radical goth punk 16yo is quite likely not what you’ll think is cool when it’s faded and ugly and you’re in your late 30s….
What’s your take? Do you have one or more tattoos? What’s that experience like for you? And do your kids have any tattoos or piercings, and if so, what process did you go through as a family to discuss it and decide if it was going to be a smart long-term decision?