When, If and How to say no to Tattoos and Piercings.

Dear Sharon,

Our son is 13 and he’s driving us crazy. He’s into heavy metal music and now he wants to have his body tattooed and pierced. So far we have managed to keep this from happening. Are we doing the right thing? What do you suggest?

Dear Parents,

It is common and important for 13 year olds to claim their right to “be themselves” but it is equally important for parents and others to share guidance, information and long-range perspectives that teens often need to grow into healthy and happy adults. As many parents are “driven crazy” by their teens it is often extremely challenging to know how, when and if to communicate ideas about tattoos, piercing and many other issues. Here are some ideas that might help as you sort this through.

I often mention in this column that it is very useful for Moms and Dads to set aside plenty of time to “hang out”, have fun and connect with their adolescent before broaching complicated topics like piercing and tattoos. Some parents I know have found it helpful to spend time with their young person listening to and learning about heavy metal and other kinds of music so that they can understand their child’s interest from a more knowledgeable and less condescending point of view.

If parents have managed to accomplish this and/or have a communicative relationship with their 13 year old then it is useful for them to remember that most teens, like many of us when we were young, can have a hard time focusing on the future consequences of their decisions, are susceptible to peer and social pressures and can’t see that current trends may not be permanent.

Because of these and other factors ongoing talks between teens and parents can be invaluable. Of course they can also easily turn into “power battles”. It can lessen tension if Moms and Dads try and avoid stern messages or lectures as these common and understandable approaches often end with young people “tuning out,” becoming defiant or arguing about parental tone rather than thinking through the topic at hand.

Even if a parent/child relationship is on solid footing and conversations are a relatively easy exchange of ideas teens don’t usually say “thanks Mom and Dad” when a parent tells them no or to wait a while before trying something they want to do. It is usually not easy for parents to listen to upset children of any age, but I believe it is important for parents to trust their judgment and share their point of view. Most 13 year olds are not ready to make independent decisions about things that will affect their appearance or lives for a long time I believe that piercing, tattoos and many other things fit into this category.

The internet has helped many parents I know find information about the long-term consequences of tattoos and piercing. I did a quick search preparing for this column and discovered some fairly worrisome health repercussions for both.

If Mom and/or Dad can share specific information that they have gathered in a gradual and thoughtful manner communicating that they have their young ones best interest at heart rather than simply “holding forth” about what’s right and wrong it can make a difference.

It is also important to remember that many adults juggle challenges like the one you describe and those I know who have spoken to other parents and school and/or medical personnel that they trust have received concrete assistance and helpful voices from outside the immediate family that have been useful to young people and parents as they sorted through these issues.

Making decisions that might affect a child’s long-term future usually take time and effort to sort through. I am glad your son has agreed to listen to you at least for now.