Sue Scheff: Parental Consent and Body Piercing

Educator and Author, Sue Blaney wrote about a topic that many parents with teenagers sometimes face.  I know when my daughter first pierced her belly button, I thought I would die!  Now, as she is an adult, it is removed, but I won’t forget my frustrations and stress I went through.  Since the belly button was the “first” of several piercings!  Thankfully  -those teen years are behind me.

teenbodypiercingBy Sue Blaney

When the television media wants to interview me it’s usually not a political reporter, but I like (WBZ-TV’s) Jon Keller’s approach. When the Massachusetts state house began discussing imposing a parental consent requirement on kids under 18 who seek tattoos and/or body pierces, he wanted to speak with a parenting-teens expert about the topic. Here’s the clip from last evening’s news:

WBZ interview on Teens and Body Piercing

Of course, most of our interview landed on the cutting room floor, so let me tell you about this discussion. It’s a good one to think about.  Jon Keller often reports on what he calls the “Nanny State” …in this case government regulating what parents should be managing. And he asked me if regulating an age of consent has merit in this case.

What has merit, is parents – or somebody – advising kids to help them avoid choices they will regret. Will all kids regret their choice of piercing or tattooing? No; and some parents choose to have them too. There is nothing inherently wrong in it. For the parents who do object to tattoos and pierces, they usually object because they are difficult to un-do.

Parents have an important role to play here in guiding your teens to delay such choices until they are older; in fact, as I say in the interview, this is parents’ job. Due to teens’ brain development they do tend to be impulsive and are not well equipped to see the long term consequences for their actions. Parents have to put the brakes on in many areas,  this is just another example. You buy time and allow them to mature and develop, as they change their tastes and appearance and interests…until they have enough responsibility to make their own good decisions. In the case of tattooing and piercing 18 is probably a good age for such a decision.

Parents who are having such discussions with their teens might consider the following advice:

  • Discuss this when everyone is calm; don’t do it when emotions are high,
  • Allow your teen to express himself – even outlandishly if that is what he wants – using means that aren’t permanent. Let him dye his hair blue!
  • Emphasize that you are not trying to control her by saying “no,” rather you are guiding her because you care so much and don’t want her to make a choice she will regret.
  • Negotiate a compromise… give him permission on something else he wants that isn’t so bothersome to you.

If your teen is going to go ahead and get a pierce or tattoo anyway…and you are going to allow yourself to lose this argument, accompany her. Make sure the place is clean and meets your standards.  Also, negotiate the location of the tattoo or pierce… preferably in location that will be hidden by normal clothing.

In a perfect world parents wouldn’t need the state to make parental consent guidelines because parents and teens would talk and discuss such decisions.

We don’t live in a perfect world, however, so if the state puts up a barrier that will slow down this for kids, I’m for it.