Teens and Tattoos

Teens and tattoos
Teens and Tattoos

Tattoos have a magnetic allure for many teenagers. Every year, many teenagers ask their parent’s permission to get a tattoo. According to a  C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, twenty-seven percent of parents of teens ages 16-18, and 11 percent of parents of teens ages 13-15, said their teen had asked them for permission to get a tattoo. Most of these parents objected. 53% of parents said they were very concerned about infection or scarring from a tattoo, while 50% were very concerned about diseases such as hepatitis or HIV being transmitted to their child through unsanitary needles. Almost all, even those who had tattoos themselves, were worried that the child may change their mind about their tattoo in the short to medium term.

Parents’ concerns are very much valid when it comes to teens and tattoos. Their concerns are backed by true stories of simple tattoo procedures gone wrong. In 2017, a Canadian model attempted to get her eyeball tattooed and almost went blind. While in Japan, an Osaka district court ruled that a tattooist had broken the law by practicing without a medical license. Besides safety, there’s also the matter of future regret. “There are things that a teenager might find fashionable when they are 16 years old that they might not find fashionable at 36 years of age,” says Gary L. Freed, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan. “Parents expressed concern that their children should not be impulsive in the decisions that they make regarding tattoos because of the potential for regret.” This is the most typical concern parents have. 

What Drives Teens and Tattoos?

Many teenagers know that their parents will object to getting a tattoo. But that does nothing to stop them from wanting to get inked anyway. So what is the psychology behind this drive? Find out below.

  • Formation of Identity. Teenagehood is a delicate time in which teenagers try to figure out who they want to be. They’re trying to shift from idealizing their parents to establishing independence. This stage of their development is usually mired in trials and confusion. Unsure of what they want, they might try different appearances, hobbies, social groups, and sports. A tattoo might be one of the things that catch their fancy. It is usual for your teenager to rebel during this stage of their development. It may be that they are struggling with self-respect.
  • A Personal Narrative. A lot of creativity goes into making a tattoo. It’s a work of art. And for many people, their tattoo tells a story, something they want to grant permanence. The same thing applies to your teen. They may be trying to create a personal narrative by getting a tattoo.
  • Changes in the Brain. Changes in the brain might also be responsible for your teenager wanting to get a tattoo. As your child goes through teenagehood, their brain experiences several changes. These changes aren’t always uniform. Some parts of the brain might develop faster than others. Teenagers find it difficult to control emotions when the hypothalamus hasn’t fully developed. Plus, they also experience hormonal changes, with testosterone and estrogen heightening. Combine both of these things and you have a compulsive and emotional teenager. The emotional side makes them expressive and the impulsive side makes them more likely to submit to the whims of emotions. Getting a tattoo is one form of expression.
  • A Play at Maturity. At some point in a teenager’s development, they begin to make a play at maturity. They want the adults around them to acknowledge their maturity, so they try to earn their respect. One way they might do this is to try and get a tattoo. This is also the case for teenagers who are trying to establish a place in their social circle. The tattoo might be because they want to look more tough and intimidating. You may also be worried about the company that they are keeping and those who are acting as role models. Here we look at when and how to intervene in damaging friendships.
  • Physical Changes to the Body. The body changes a lot between the age of 13 to 18. It’s the time when teenagers experience sexual impulses. They grow taller, their voice changes, and they develop acne. Teenagers can’t control these changes and it makes sense that they might want to get a tattoo because it’s something they can at least control. The tattoo may also be sexual.

Should I Stop My Teenager from Getting a Tattoo?

You’re not alone if you wouldn’t consider giving your teen approval to get a tattoo. According to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll, 78% of parents with children aged between 16 and 17 said they would “absolutely not consider” approval for a tattoo. But the reality is that if your teen wants to get a tattoo, there’s not a lot you can do about it. Once they’re eighteen, they can easily take themself to a tattoo parlor. Better to have a conversation with your teen instead of being judgmental and autocratic about it. Below are some tips on how to navigate the conversation of teens and tattoos.

  • Ask Why They Want the Tattoo. There’s always a reason why people want to get a tattoo. You need to learn why your child wants one. Ask what they want to draw, why they need it now, where they want to draw it, and how long they’ve thought about getting a tattoo. Their answers to these questions will help you understand if this is something they’re doing on a whim. A tattoo done impulsively might bring regret later.
  • Discuss How a Tattoo Might Affect their Professional Prospects. According to a 2017 Pew Research Center study, tattoos have become more mainstream, with more than a third of people ages 18 to 29 having at least one. Pediatricians no longer view tattoos as a marker of risky behavior such as drug and alcohol use. But despite this widespread acceptance, teens with tattoos can still turn off a potential employer. A Salary survey found that 76% of respondents feel tattoos and piercings hurt an applicant’s chances of being hired during a job interview. And more than one-third—39% of those surveyed—believe employees with tattoos and piercings reflect poorly on their employers. Furthermore, 42% feel visible tattoos are always inappropriate at work, with 55% reporting the same thing about body piercings. Factor all these into your conversation with your teen. Make them understand that they might have to deal with this if they get a visible tattoo. Here is an article with more information about what employers look for in a candidate.
  • Touch on Potential Health Risks. There are potential health risks associated with getting a tattoo. “While medical complications aren’t common, it’s important for young people to understand and consider all potential risks associated with body modifications like tattoos,” says Freed. Make sure your teen understands the risks. Health risks are due to amateur tattoo artists, improper cleanliness and safety practices. This increases the risk of infections such as hepatitis B and C, HIV, and other transmissible diseases.

What if My Child Still Insists on Getting a Tattoo, Anyway?

Much as you’ve explained the potential risks and everything, your teen might still persist with wanting to get a tattoo. At this point, things can get tricky. Below are tips on how you can handle teens and tattoos.

  • Suggest Alternative Ways of Expression. In mid-adolescence, many teenagers have experienced puberty. They may not like the bodily changes following puberty. This is what makes many teenagers hyper-focus on their physical appearance. They seek to express themselves to find an authentic self. But instead of tattooing, suggest other forms of expression such as henna tattoos, hair styling, and coloring. These forms of expression are not permanent.
  • Agree to a Future Tattoo. One effective way to navigate this stalemate between you and your teen is to agree to a future tattoo. The trick here is simply to stall. By stalling, you get to know if their desire for a tattoo is genuine. Or whether it’s just something triggered by a trend or teenage impulsiveness. You could simply say, “Why don’t you wait till you’re 18? If you still want a tattoo by then, not only would we fully support your decision, but we’d treat you to one for your birthday.”
  • Stand Your Ground. You know your child best. If you strongly believe that your teen shouldn’t get a tattoo before the legal age, then you need to stand firm. Don’t let their persistence make you budge. Even if they threaten to get it behind your back. Most states prohibit tattoo parlors from inking people below 18. The law is on your side.

Final Thoughts on Teens and Tattoos

If you do agree to the tattoo, look into the tattoo parlor thoroughly. Tattoos go wrong a lot of times because the tattoo parlor has an amateur as the artist. So make sure that the tattoo parlor your child would use has been in operation for a long time. Look for someone who had their tattoo done in the same place and ask them questions. When you finally meet the tattoo artist, ask them questions on their process and how they use their equipment. Teens and tattoos can be a worry, however, love is more than skin deep.