Teenagers & Tattoos (or other bodily modifications): Advice for Concerned Parents

‘Mom, I’m getting a tattoo’ or ‘Dad, what do you think of my pierced nose’ are words that so many parents of teens hear today.

Often times, parents don’t even know that their children have gotten a tattoo or a piercing. When they see it, they’re shocked or refuse to believe their children have done this without their permission.

But, getting a tattoo or a piercing while still technically a child is just a piece of the puzzle. When our children enter the transformative period of adolescence, making all kinds of changes in their physical appearance is very common.

This is the period when they may dye their hair in a different color, get an ‘odd’ haircut or pierce their belly or nose.

As Mary Beth Sammons, award-winning journalist and author explains, body modification or body art is a battleground between teens and their parents.

Although they’ve been present for a long period of time, in the last 20 years, there’s been a rise in piercings and tattooing among teenagers aged 12 to 18.

The problem may happen when a teen modifies their body or face without consulting their parents. Even though you may not be against them getting a tattoo or a piercing when they’re adults, when they’re young, the situation is very different.

Teens are known to make wrong decisions in the spur of the moment, without being able to think about the consequences. In a way, this isn’t entirely their fault- their brain is still developing, including the part that can consider consequences, which develops last.

However, this doesn’t mean that we needn’t stay informed about the body changes and modifications our teens want.

The challenge is to stay in the loop about the common teen desires in this tumultuous period and discuss them with our children earlier than the ‘I want it all and I want it now’ phase.

We need to address the risk of piercings, tattooing, cosmetic surgeries, etc. and note that they always need to discuss these things with us first.

To help you learn about what you could do if your teen is eager to change their physical appearance, check out the tips we’ve compiled below.

What are the most common physical changes teens want?

Nowadays, teens don’t have it easy and neither do their parents. The pressure from media to look or behave in a certain way is making them insecure and many of them even struggle with negative body image.

The lack of experience mixed with their low-self esteem may cause them to consider a certain change in their physical appearance. Sometimes, it may just be the ‘I’m independent, so I can do whatever I want’ period.

And, this doesn’t always mean that they’ll just get their nose pierced or tattoo their body without discussing it with you, but may also consider cosmetic surgeries.

For a lot of teens, this could be the thing that will ‘fix everything’. In a survey from 2015 done with 2000 teens, 40 percent of the girls reported considering plastic surgery.

Unfortunately, many youngsters believe that their body confidence problems will be resolved if they make the certain body change that’s ‘preventing’ them from ‘being accepted or valued’.

When it comes to tattoos, in a survey that can be found in the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology, 22 percent of women and 26 percent of men said they had tattoos.

But, at such a young age, do our teens know what the future has prepared for them?

Although you may not necessarily be the parent who’s against self-expression, you may worry about the common perceptions people have about tattooed or pierced individuals or people with cosmetic surgeries.

You may worry whether your teen will be ‘accepted’ in his/her environment, whether at school or at work, if he decides to make the specific body change.

What to Do If Your Teen Wants to Change their Physical Appearance?

According to the Raising Children Network that’s supported by the Australian Government and helps parents make decisions that work in their families, nourishing a healthy body image in our children is the foundation of good physical and mental well-being.

On the other hand, an unhealthy image may have long-term consequences.

Despite the fact that it doesn’t mean that your child has poor body image because they want a tongue piercing or a hair color change, the fact that ‘all others are doing it’ doesn’t mean your child should do it too.

The key in these situations is to keep an open mind, but ensure you seriously discuss physical appearance changes.

  • Keep an open mind

Before you go on and tell them all the things you think about piercings, tattoos, cosmetic surgeries, etc. listen to what he/she has to say. Make sure you ask them about the reasons why they want to make a certain modification.

Ask her/him about any research he/she has done on the subject and whether they’re aware of the healing period and or if they know how to properly take care of their piercing or tattoo.

Indeed, tattoos and piercings are quite popular among youngsters, with nearly 50 percent of millenials ‘showing them off’. Although for some parents this is not a big concern, for others, it’s a dilemma.

Maybe no one in their family is a supporter of long-term body art or may have beliefs that are against these practices.

But, it’s crucial to realize that when we strictly forbid our children to get a piercing or a tattoo, we risk them from doing it behind our back.

On the other hand, keeping an open mind and discussing these questions with them is one of the best ways to guide them towards a decision which will be the best for them and your family.

  • Ask them why they want the change

If your tween or teen says they want to dye their hair or to put fillers in their lips, ask them about the reasons behind this need, advises Amy Morin, LCSW, psychotherapist, bestseller author, and public speaker.

Is this something that will help them express themselves better or something they think will improve their body image?