Of all the things teens ask for, one of the scariest and most permanent is a tattoo. What if a tattoo prevents your child from getting a job? Or what if they decide they don’t like it anymore? It’s a permanent and potentially scary choice for your teenager to invest in body art. However, the risks aren’t so bad if you can talk through this major decision with your teenager. If you don’t want your teen to get a tattoo behind your back, consider these four points.
1. Saying “No” Might Spur Rebellion
It’s important to keep the conversation open when discussing a tattoo because saying “no” right away could inspire your teenager to get a tattoo anyway. Be especially careful if your teen shows a pattern of defiance. Getting an unsupervised is dangerous because without the advice from a parent, your teen could go to an unsanitary tattoo parlor, putting them at risk for infection. Another risk is that your teen could enlist a friend to do an amateur tattoo with their own ink and needles. These amateur tattoos are typically called “stick and pokes” and usually don’t look as good as professional tattoos while still introducing risks like contamination or even nerve damage if the needle goes too deep.
2. Know that Tattoos are Becoming More Culturally Acceptance
Thirty-eight percent of people ages 18-29 have at least one tattoo, a huge increase from previous generations. The fact is, more young people are getting tattoos. A few decades ago a lot more people assumed that having a tattoo means someone experiences deviant behaviors, and it’s partially true. However, research shows that less people are making that association today and having just one tattoo is not necessarily putting someone at risk of committing crimes. In this way, your teen is entering a world in which more people find tattoos culturally acceptable. Unless it’s on their face, you don’t have to worry too much about a tattoo impacting your teen’s future. It’s unlikely that they will be considered unfit for a job, or an undesirable marriage partner, or undeserving of respect if they get a visible tattoo. (Although a majority of tattoos can be hidden)
3. Ask Them to Wait
If you feel uncomfortable with their decision, it’s a good idea to tell your teen that you would prefer if they wait to decide. After a few months of putting the tattoo talk on the backburner, your teen might be over the idea and you could save them from a permanent outcome to a spur of the moment decision. This is a likely scenario since the developing teen brain tends to come up with quick solutions before cycling through various options and outcomes. If they are still interested in getting a tattoo, you know that they are serious about their choice and the tattoo will probably be meaningful, bringing your teen confidence, joy, or a quality memory.
4. Compromise on Content
Since teens have the ability to make the radical and sudden decision to get a tattoo, it might be your best bet to try compromising to minimize risk. When your teen decides that they will get a tattoo, even if you don’t want them to, we suggest that you still support them by helping them find a trustworthy tattoo artist that takes sanitation very seriously. This is a surgery, so it would be harmful to cut corners.
If you are uncomfortable about your teen’s choice to get a tattoo, you might feel better if you find an acceptable middle ground about size and location. It could be beneficial for you and your teen if you pick a location where the tattoo can be hidden by clothing, and is small enough that it doesn’t attract too much attention. You might want to request that your teen gets a simple tattoo free of color for their first experience with this type of body art.
It’s also important to talk about content. It might be wise to allow your teen to get a tattoo if you approve of the message it sends and ensure that it is not disrespectful. Know that your teen can always expand the size, color, and content of their body art as they get older and more confident with their decisions for permanent tattoos.
It’s a Lot to Consider
But you’ll feel way better knowing that you tried your best to compromise with your teen about their decision to alter their body. It’s becoming more and more normal for young people to have tattoos, so we recommend that you try to be as accepting as possible if your teen plans on getting inked. In a worst-case scenario, your teen could always get a ridiculous tattoo without your consent, so it’s crucial to consider these guidelines when your teen pops the questions. Who knows? Maybe you’ll come to love the tattoo idea your teen comes up with, it’s not uncommon for parents to get a matching tat with their teen.
Andy Earle is a researcher who studies parent-teen communication and adolescent risk behaviors. He is the co-founder of talkingtoteens.com and host of the Talking to Teens podcast, a free weekly talk show for parents of teenagers.