Talking About Tattoos and Piercings with Your Teen

Most teens want to play with their image. They may change their style of dress, try out styles that might be completely foreign to the family tradition, and color their hair as a way to make a statement. Teens have no trouble with using their body as a means for self expression.


The same is true for tattoos and piercings. Teens might want to pierce parts of their body for a variety of reasons, not only for self expression. For this reason, it’s important that parents discuss with their teens the pros and cons of getting a tattoo or piercing their body.


It was many years ago when parents were debating about whether to pierce their children’s ears. Now, teens are piercing their tongue, nostrils, eyebrows, belly button, and even the back of the neck. For the most part, according to research, teens and parents are in communication about the decisions they are making about tattoos and piercing. However, apparently, about 13% of teens have piercings that their parents aren’t aware of.


Of course, it won’t be long when teens reach the age of 18, and at that point they can do whatever they want anyway. However, there are some significant dangers of tattoos and piercings that parents and teens should discuss. For instance, there are three primary reasons why tattoos and piercings are dangerous:

  • There might be dissatisfaction with the appearance, size, or placement of the tattoo or piercing.
  • There could be physical complications such as allergic reactions and infections, with either a tattoo or piercing.
  • Teens place themselves at risk for dangerous viruses such as Hepatitis and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) through improper, unsterile tattoo/piercing procedures.


In addition to the fact that tattoos can be very expensive, the above are significant reasons to discuss with your teen. Helping him or her make a clear decision, one that takes the distant future into consideration, is important. For instance, at some point in the future, your teen may no longer appreciate the tattoo he or she got. And the process of removing a tattoo is extensive as well as expensive.


Also, in addition to the cons of getting a tattoo, it’s also necessary to discuss the pros – what will your teen get out of it?  Perhaps he or she will experience enjoyment, acceptance from peers, the excitement from old friends, and a boost in confidence. It might  feel like an initiation into adulthood for your teen. In the American culture, there is very little acknowledgement for teens when they make the transition from childhood to adulthood, whereas in other cultures it’s more common. Getting a tattoo or piercing might feel like a way to mark his or her transition into adulthood.


Some things to keep in mind before your teen gets a piercing or tattoo:

  • Make sure your teen is up to date with his or her immunizations, especially hepatitis B and tetanus.
  • Plan where you will help get medical care if your teen’s piercing or tattoo becomes infected. If you notice signs of infection, such as excessive redness, tenderness around the piercing site, prolonged bleeding, or change in skin color around the piercing area, the tattoo or piercing may be infected. If this is the case, and if there are other problems, such as excessive swelling or bleeding, know in advance where your teen can go to get medical care.
  • If your teen gets a tongue or mouth piercing, make sure his or her teeth and gums are healthy.
  • Make sure the tattoo/piercing shop is clean.
  • Ask questions about a shop’s process of piercing and tattooing before your teen decides to get pierced or tattooed. For instance, does the person doing the piercing washes his or her hands with a germicidal soap, wear fresh disposable gloves, and use sterilized instruments or instruments that are thrown away after use?
  • At the time of the procedure, your teen should find out whether the needle being used is new and that the needle is disposed of in a special sealed container after the piercing or tattooing.


Although parents might be quick to say no, have an honest conversation with your teen discussing the pros, cons, and your teen’s underlying intention. Getting a tattoo or piercing is an important decision, and it deserves a healthy conversation.