The Parents Yap About Piercings And Tattoos: How Old Is Old Enough?

This week, The Parents Yap about body mutilation and when it's OK for our kids to join the party.

Tattoos and piercings are everywhere, and we don't just mean pierced ears. Have your kids noticed? Do they ask to get inked or pierced? How old do your kids have to be? And... are you leading by example with your own piercings or tattoos?

Melissa Schools
For my ninth birthday party, the whole party piled into what I’m sure was only one car and went to LaVerdiere’s Drug Store, so I could get my ears pierced. I was a big fat baby about it, and ended up taking the earrings out and didn’t get my ears pierced again until I was sixteen. My mother’s hairdresser did it. (That was our idea of a full-service salon back in the day.) My mother’s best friends had pierced her ears with, as my mother says, “a hat pin and an ice cube.”  No doubt this is how I came up with the idea to use a needle and an ice cube when my freshman year college roommate wanted her nose pierced. Yikes! That experience cured me of my own desire for a nose ring. The mother in me now is appalled that we thought that was a good idea.

All my sisters- and all of my brothers, for that matter- have had their ears pierced, but to my knowledge, the “modifications” (piercing world lingo) remain limited to ears. There are also some piercings on my husband’s side of the family, but here, too, the piercings are limited to ears, on both men and women. Even my straight-arrow of a husband had an earring at one time, procured after he moved out of his parents’ house. The story of how he took it out in preparation to back up his cousin at a rumble between the Red Necks and the Skaters in Maine in the nineties is my new favorite story of loyalty about him. Luckily, the “rumble” turned out to be just a fight between two guys not involving his cousin, but sadly, my brave warrior never put the ring back in his ear. (I confess to a teeny, tiny weakness for those little hoop earrings in men.)

As for tattoos, I have none, though I used to really want one. Lots of my family members and friends have tattoos, so I don’t really consider it taboo or anything. My father has no tattoos, even though he could have chosen to sport the Navy man’s telltale anchor. Each of my brothers and one of my sisters has at least one tattoo. My brothers got theirs once they were out of my parents’ house and my sister got hers when her kids were grown (and had tattoos of their own). My sister-in-law is the only one my kids know with tattoos as a body design choice. I have to say they (and she) are beautiful. My husband has no tattoos.

I’ll admit I’m more apt to judge the subject matter of a tattoo rather than the presence of one. If my boys get tattoos, I hope they won’t sport anything lascivious, grotesque or kitchy. Ironic tattoos would be acceptable.

As I’ve grown older, my desire for a tattoo has faded, but I still love me some temporary tattoos. They make some pretty hip and convincing ones these days. You can even buy fake “sleeve” tattoos for less than five dollars. I love the idea of body adornment, but do not love the idea of the permanence of real tattoos.

My kids love temporary tattoos, as well. My second son in particular used to love to cover himself in them. Incidentally, he’s also the one who, when doing a mosaic sticker project, pulled out two gemstone stickers and sported them on his earlobes. I think he’s drawn to that kind of flat-brimmed ball cap, honkin’-diamonds-in-the-ears kind of style. We’ll see…

But, we’ll see once he- and his brothers- are graduated from high school and living on their own. We haven’t had to field any serious requests for tattoos or piercings from our boys, but when and if it comes up, they will be informed that they can make that decision when they are adults.

Aside from basic considerations of appearance or going overboard, I would object to piercings or tattoos from a monetary perspective. These things can be expensive, and apparently, it can be quite addictive for some people. I admit that it really bugs me when I hear people complain of money problems in one breath, and in the next talk about plans for their next tattoo or piercing. This would be part of the problem for my sons, since I’m assuming it will be a while before they have much disposable income, especially once they are on their own. I know that one is able to save for a tattoo or a piercing just like any other special or luxury item, but I still maintain that if you lack money for the basics and aren’t saving money, it’s probably not the best time to indulge a body modification habit.

Finally, it must be said that even if there is much more mainstream acceptance of tattoos and piercings these days than even just a generation ago, too many tats or piercings could still negatively affect one’s range of employment options. This would negatively affect one’s ability to make more money to spend on the desired tattoos or piercings, no?

Hopefully, we’ll be able to instill the “Everything in Moderation” standard in our boys enough in their lives that will extend to their choices regarding future body modifications.


Regina Martine
I was always told that I had to wait until I was sixteen to get my ears pierced. I was obsessed with the idea—or maybe I was obsessed because I was told I had to wait. My mother finally caved when I was 14 and I got an A on the final exam of the Algebra class I had struggled with all year. It’s worth noting that my mother equated pierced ears with foot binding or the lip-stretching discs worn by some African tribes—unnecessary and basically a form of mutilation— so this was a big deal for her. Anyway, I finally had my ears adorned with tiny studs at the Piercing Pagoda in the mall. A few years later, I went on to double and triple pierce my left ear myself with my “starter” earrings with the pointy posts.

My daughters are nine and eleven and neither one of them has pierced ears. I have told them that if they want, I will take them to get their ears pierced, but I have never made a big deal about it one way or the other. They revisit the idea every once in a while, but so far, they remain mostly uninterested. They also seem kind of horrified with most other types of piercings. In their eyes, pierced ears are fine, “tasteful” nose piercings are ok on some people, but lips? Chin? Any other fleshy parts (and they don’t even realize what else people get pierced) — ick. And Ouch. And mostly, why?

I don’t have any tattoos, and neither does my husband. I have nothing against tattooing per se, although I predict that in a few years, tattoos will be like permanent mullets that can’t be cut off — mark my words. I think if you are going to have something permanently imprinted into your skin, it had better be something that is really really important to you. Like forever important. Like just as important when you are 80 as it was when you were 18 because tattoos are FOREVER. My kids are kind of grossed out by tattoos, and I am perfectly happy to let them go on feeling that way. They are also a little mystified by what people choose to permanently adorn themselves with. When their 22-year old cousin came to visit, sporting the beginning of a “sleeve” that so far contains images of Mario, Pokémon, and several other video game characters, my kids’ reaction was, “seriously!?!? You know that’s going to be on you forever, right?” Smart kids. However, when seventeen-year-old Missy Franklin got a tattoo of the Olympic rings after winning gold in London last summer, they thought that was pretty cool. They think — and I agree — that an accomplishment of Olympic proportions is worth a permanent mark on the body that got her there. That tattoo will be just as cool when she is 80 as it is now. If my kids ever compete in the Olympics, they are welcome to get a tattoo to commemorate it. Other than that, they should remember that forever is a long, long time.


Tasha Schlake Festel
I was ten when I got my ears pierced, 13 when I got them double pierced, 15 when I got the left one triple pierced, and 18 when I got the fourth hole all the way at the top of my left ear. Then my mom begged me, "Just not your face, Tash! Promise me you won't do it to your face." Apparently, she could read my mind and knew that I dreamed of one day getting my nose pierced. That one day came 20 years later, when at age 38, I found myself at a tattoo parlor getting a needle stuck through my nose.

And let me just say, "Ouch." But that is another story for another day.

My kids have never known me without the holes in my ears. I wear earrings every single day, almost without fail, but just in my first holes. A few times a week, when I'm feeling a little funky or rebellious, <snort> I'll put a tiny, diamond stud in the top hole. The other holes are vacant, however, still visible but never occupied. They've never questioned me about my earrings, just accepted that this is what I look like. The nose piercing was another story. That one came after the children and they had very definite opinions on it.

I had thought about getting my nose pierced for 20 years. Yes, two decades. That's a lot of thinking time, especially for a spontaneous kind of girl like me. I talked to my kids about it, mostly just telling them I was probably going to do it. They were both adamantly opposed to it. They told me it would look gross and kind of begged me not to do it. I was surprised by their reaction to the thought of me mutilating myself in the name of fashion.  Although when I put it that way... Then I remembered that they don't like it if I get a haircut/highlights or if I wear a funky shirt or push my fashion limits with some crazy stilettos. I have somehow raised two fashion conservatives who don't like change. Um, what? Clearly, the chromosome that determines that stuff is Y-linked.

After I got my nose done, the kids eventually accepted it. After 18 months, they still don't really like it, and if I ask them, they'll say it's "eh." But I love it. And I'm an adult, so I can make those decisions for myself.

My daughter is 9. Many of her friends have pierced ears. She's asked me when she can get hers done. My rule is, and always has been, when she's 10. That's how old I had to be, and that's how old she has to be. End of discussion. She's never questioned me about it, other than the times she's asked me if she had to get her ears pierced. I told her absolutely not - body mutilation is never required, at least not in this country.

My son has also asked when he could get his ears pierced. I told him he could get them done when his father did. Lucky for me, his father has no piercings at all, so that means never. I'm sure this topic will come up again, although who knows where fashion trends will go.

Always testing the limits, my kids asked me when they could get their noses pierced. I told them, just like their ears, they could get their noses done when I did. At 38. That put an end to that discussion.

As far as tattoos go, I'm not sure they want them. Neither my husband nor I have ink, so it's not something that they're used to seeing. I don't have anything against tattoos at all. In fact, I am often impressed by the art. I would just caution my children to make sure that anything they got imprinted on their skin forever was something that they really, really, REALLY cared about. While a Phineas and Ferb tattoo might be kind of cool/edgy/retro/ironic now, in 45 years, will they really want it? Sure it's a good show, but I highly doubt it. Once, just to test them out, I told them I was thinking about getting one. They both looked at me in horror and reminded me that I'd have it on me forever and that they didn't think it was a good idea. Heh heh. Clearly my message has gotten through.

My children have demonstrated to me that they both have good heads on their shoulders. They understand that tattoos are permanent. They also understand that piercings are less so. Sure, the hole - or some remainder thereof -  will always be there, but the jewelry can be removed or changed. It's somehow less permanent.

I recently threatened to change the diamond stud in my nose to a small silver hoop. The kids both looked at me in horror, but they know better than to ask me not to do it. I've told them repeatedly that I'm an adult and it's my body. The choices are mine, and mine alone. And when they are adults, they will have that same freedom.

But not a moment before.


Paul Simpson
Back in high school, four of my friends discussed getting tattoos for a few weeks before driving over the border to visit a New Hampshire tattoo parlor.  Focused more on strategizing how to keep the tattoos from their parents’ eyes, they hadn’t given a great deal of thought to what images they wanted permanently inked to and on what part of their bodies.  The first decided on a shamrock with his name on a banner below for his thigh (his name matched the display on the wall and he sort of saw it as an omen).  The second went with a shamrock on his shoulder, as he didn’t fear his mother’s reaction.  The third chose a shark for his thigh, but its rounded dorsal fin left it looking a tad like a dolphin.  (After a couple of weeks of razzing he returned for a touch-up.) The fourth picked a panther head for his thigh.  He never dwelled on the plight of big cats; and it wasn’t his high school or soon-to-be college mascot.  He likely chose it out of his legendary impatience.  It looked like a pen exploded in his pocket.

I, however, was the like fifth dentist, the one in five who doesn’t recommend Trident gum for their patients who chew gum.  No tattoo for me.  I can’t recall why I didn’t go with them, but I imagine it had to do with the fear and repercussions of getting caught.  I also have a penchant for following rules, and I wasn’t eighteen.  Getting a Mohawk in eighth grade was the most rebellious thing I did regarding my appearance as a kid, and I caught hell from the principal.  He didn’t think my Mohawk set a good tone, as I held the lofty office of Stoneham Junior High School Student Council President at the time.

Now that I’m all grown up, I don’t have any desire to get a tattoo.  I’ve been asked numerous times if I’ve had my ear pierced thanks to a weird fold/wrinkle/divot in my ear lobe.  Again, no desire for extra holes in my body at this point.

As for when I would let my boys get piercings or tattoos, I’d have to go with the classic, “You can do that when you no longer live under my roof.”  The same thing I say when they ask about getting a dog.  If I had to choose to let them get one of them, I’d go with tattoo.  I think tattoos have become ubiquitous and don’t even get a second glance most of the time.  Piercings have a different connotation still, and I’m not talking about something like Tasha’s tasteful nose adornment.  I’m talking about tongue studs, lip/eyebrow rings, giant cubic zirconia studs on guys, those horseshoe-looking things through the cartilage in the center of the nose, and those massive wooden loops that stretch earlobe meat to its breaking point.  I know, judging a book by its cover and all, but those are some career-limiting decisions right there.  Perhaps one day we’ll see Fortune 500 CEOs rocking bamboo napkin rings in their ears and ivory toothpicks through the bridges of their noses as they address the board of directors.  Until then, I’d recommend to my kids that, if they ever choose to modify their bodies with some kind of art, stick with a tattoo they can cover up with clothing at work.

Tiffany Thompson January 24, 2013 at 01:34 PM
I once told my kids that real tattoos are put on with needles - not water, like the ones they were used to - and that was enough to make them (for now, anyway!) never ever want to get real tattoos. Some time after that, when the kids saw someone with a real tattoo, I heard my daughter quietly explain to one of her younger siblings, "That man has a sew-on tattoo! It was sewed on with needles!!"
Elijah January 24, 2013 at 08:57 PM
"...Do not mark your skin with tattoos...." Lev. 19:28, The Holy Bible.
Paul Simpson January 24, 2013 at 11:30 PM
Ironically, Bible verses tattoos are wildly popular.
Paul Berge January 26, 2013 at 04:54 PM
It's not ironic at all when you consider that the passage posted by Elijah is taken out of context and really doesn't apply to modern day tattoos. Elijah loves to post that quote on random tattoo related articles on the web, but never responds when questioned about it.
Sam Stella January 29, 2013 at 10:38 PM
Ditto about not marking your skin with tatoos. Quote from the Bible


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