Why Not Tattoo?

3 minute read
Amy Dickinson

When our children are babies, we spend hours gazing at their perfect bodies and stroking, admiring and sniffing their fabulously pure skin. We worry endlessly about every rash, scrape and sunburn, never dreaming that one day they might want to pay a guy named Bucky to pierce or tattoo that very skin. Yet increasingly they do. Tattooing and piercing, once the preference of biker chicks and sailors on shore leave, are attracting ever younger recruits. Chances are that someday soon your 12-year-old–the same kid who cried real tears over getting a booster shot at her last annual checkup–will be bugging you for a naval piercing or a tattoo of James Van Der Beek’s face on her midriff.

My family colorfully illustrates both ends of the tattoo age spectrum. At 77, my Uncle Harvey sports several, including, on his left forearm, a schooner that arrived there during World War II. Harvey is sheepish about his tattoos, describing them as “stupid mistakes.” On the other hand, my 20-year-old stepcousin Aaron will proudly roll up his T-shirt sleeve to show his right arm, covered from shoulder to elbow with his initials surrounded by a design that resembles Victorian wallpaper. An intricately tattooed Yoda from Star Wars sagely sits on his left calf. Aaron describes his body as “a work in progress.”

Some parents don’t mind tattoos. I know a mother and teenage daughter who went to a studio recently to get matching ankle designs. Parents who don’t approve, however, are now getting some help from laws in 30 states that prohibit studios from tattooing minors without parental consent. Nineteen ban under-age piercing. The American Academy of Dermatology urges that artists be trained, regulated and licensed in precautions having to do with “sanitation, sterilization, cutaneous anatomy, infections, universal body-fluid precautions, biologic waste disposal, and wound care.” Tattoos, the ADA reminds us, are permanent. Removing them? It really hurts. Dermatologists and responsible tattoo artists also stress that a young, still growing body is not a proper canvas.

My cousin Aaron–he of the wallpaper tattoos–concurs. Aaron, who was tattooed after he turned 18, said, “When I think of some of the dumb stuff I wanted to do when I was 15, I’m glad someone stopped me.” (But even wise Aaron clearly can’t imagine any drawbacks to his future as a 40-year-old man with a Yoda tattoo.) Ron Stiehl, the proprietor of my local piercing and tattoo parlor, says that for kids who want to try out a tattoo, artists can apply henna designs, which last about three weeks.

Parents can attempt to discourage tattooing and piercing by explaining the health risks of infection or blood-borne diseases, but remember that kids are armed with something grownups will never have–the invincible confidence of youth. That is what makes them such good skateboarders and roller-coaster riders. So after you’ve made all your best arguments, show your kid that you know a thing or two about the impermanence of fashion. Somewhere in your attic there’s a shoebox full of faded Polaroids of you flaunting your teenage geekiness. Good-naturedly display some specially selected photos of you and your friends dressed like Tony Orlando and Dawn. When the laughter dies down, explain to your kid that in 1977, you looked fabulous. Fortunately for everyone, your fashion statement wasn’t a permanent condition.

To read more about tattooing, see our website at time.com/personal E-mail Amy at timefamily@aol.com

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