Kids and Tattoos

Teen girl getting a shoulder tattooA 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.

girl with rainbow dyed hairOutside 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?


6 comments on “Kids and Tattoos

  1. I personally have to agree with you Dave. Wait until they are “legally” an adult – 18 years old. I never considered a tattoo until I was in my 30’s. At that time the concept was intriguing, cool and even erotic for strategically placed tattoos. I passed on the idea after seeing older men and women with tattoos…yikes! My sister, nine years younger than me, did get two tattoos after she turned 18. They were put in places that could be covered if in a professional situation. She is now married with three girls and a fourth baby on the way.
    Ear piercings for an under 18 years old are totally cool but body piercings not a good plan in my opinion. In the last few years earlobe stretching has become popular. Because I am a curious gal, I once approached a 20-something man who had large lobe plugs in his ears. I found my eyes drawn to those ears and not his eyes…very distracting for sure. I asked him if his ears were a fashion statement or something else. He was fortunately friendly and proceeded to explain to me something about a tribal faith that he followed, but it wasn’t a cohesive explanation. Honestly it sounded more like an excuse to mutilate one’s body and be rebellious. I’m no expert on earlobe stretching but feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

  2. I think that the concept of tattoos will be different between those who have them and those who don’t. Doesn’t matter if you have friends with them or not, if you don’t have one, then you can’t understand them the same way. I do agree that they should wait till they are 18 but even if they don’t like the tattoo later, it is a marker of a place along their life journey. Ink is becoming more mainstream and I think as the generations change in the workplace then so will the attitude towards them. I took my daughter for her first tattoo on her 18th birthday, that was the day I got my nose pierced too (and I was over 50 then). 🙂

  3. Very interesting topic. I am a huge lover of metal (particularly Christian metal bands) and that is full of people all inked up, but personally I could not be more anti-tattoo. I do whatever I can to discourage interested youth from getting a tattoo, essentially for the same reasons as you Dave, they are temperament and what you love or think is great now may not be later on. And once you get one you CAN’T change it.

    I think that young people do not have the foresight to get tattoos. Of course, if they want to there really isn’t anything you can do about it if they are 17 or 18 years old, but I think discouraging it and letting them know that not everyone finds it cool or fascinating, and that some people see it as proof of bad decision making, is a good way to go about it.

    Because let’s face it, a 20-year-old has a tough time picturing themselves as 30, much less 40 or 50. I honestly think it is impossible for them to see out that far, and because of that I’m against tattoos.

    I also personally find them unattractive on a girl myself. On a guy I could really care less I guess, but its not something I find cool generally. Likewise with piercings which I cannot STAND or fathom why anyone would want one. and on a girl I find them extremely unattractive.

    That’s just me though, plenty of my favorite metalheads love the stuff. But much like moshing, I’ll never understand it or why they consider it “cool” 😛

    Then again, I am inching towards my 30’s soon….

  4. I guess my stance is “depends.” I’m with you on the hair and piercings; so what. (Heck, I had a mohawk a couple of years ago and have piercings… couldn’t interest my son in getting a mohawk, and I tried to encourage him, but he wouldn’t 😉 ). If – for some reason (and it’d be a HUGE jump for my way-more-conservative-than-me-12-almost-13-year-old-son) – my son decided he HAD to have a tattoo before he was 18, he’d better come up with a pretty darn good reason; friend or family memorial, huge spiritual symbolism etc. I’m the type of parent that doesn’t really forbid or ban anything… but have made it clear what my boundaries (and consequences) are. If he wants to go outside those boundaries, it’s up to him to make his case and show me why he thinks it’s a good decision. I’ll counter, and he’ll need to beef up his argument. Maybe we’ll come to a compromise. I’m not a dictator; I’m his guide and teacher… even if I do get the final say 😉

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