‘Body modifications’ like tattoos, piercing other than in the ears, and scarification have become a mainstream trend, but adolescents do not always think about the long term ramifications. Skin is not done growing until adulthood, so tattoos can stretch, fade or even become lopsided over time. They are hard to modify and even harder to remove.
A report in 2010 found that 38 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds had at least one tattoo, and we suspect that the numbers have grown since then. Three in 10 adults have at least one tattoo today, which is up 20 percent since 2012. In a 2014 survey of nearly 2700 people, 76 percent thought that tattoos/piercings had hurt their chances of getting a job, and 39 percent thought employees with tattoos/piercings reflect poorly on their employers.
Parents and adolescents increasingly find themselves faced with the topic of these modifications and turning to a medical provider to present the relevant medical information. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently posted a clinical report to help providers understand more about this growing trend. As a parent or guardian, here is what you can do to address body modifications with your child:
- Have a preemptive conversation with your teen. Forty-five states have laws prohibiting minors (under age 18) from getting tattoos and body piercings without parental permission. In reality, if an adolescent wants a tattoo badly enough, they will find a way. As a parent or guardian, this is a discussion you may want to have preemptively with your teen. If they bring up the subject of tattoos or piercings, take the opportunity to talk with them about the consequences of this decision and to coach them on safe practices.
- Address the topic in a non-confrontational way. As with all coaching, the best approach is to be non-confrontational while laying out the facts so that they can make an informed decision.
- Emphasize the permanence of the decision. Parents will want to ensure their teens recognize the permanence of the decision, and may advise them to wait until they are older and can proceed without consent.
Tattooing is more acceptable in society than ever before. A recent study found that, despite their permanence, 86 percent of people who have a tattoo do not regret getting it done. If a teen does choose to pursue a modification, here is what you should ensure they remember:
- Do the research. Whatever they decide, it’s important that your children understand the significance of safety and hygiene associated with body modifications. This includes finding a reputable studio with a properly trained artist. They should prepare for the procedure by researching safe and experienced studios and practitioners.
- Have a checklist of safety tips. The skin must be cleaned and properly prepared, and the needles and ink must be clean. Infections are a risk for both tattoos and piercings. In addition to bacterial infections, tattooing has been associated with hepatitis and HIV transmission. You need to be certain immunizations are up-to-date, particularly hepatitis B, and that the parlor is licensed and as clean as a dentist’s office. You should be able to see the practitioner wash their hands, open the needle package in front of you, and discard any unused ink.
- After care is just as important. Once home, it is important to keep the site clean. It is, after all, a needle puncture! See a healthcare provider if the tattoo shows signs of infection such as increasing redness, pain, or heat.
Make an effort to caution and guide your teen and always take the extra care to make sure the process – should they choose to pursue it – is safe. This may present another opportunity for parents and guardians to touch on the important issues that surround all of the permanent decisions teens are considering.
For more information, visit KidsHealth on safe tattooing.
Jay Greenspan, M.D., is the chair of the department of pediatrics at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and pediatrician-in-chief at A.I. DuPont Hospital for Children.