Minimizing the Dangers of Body Art in Adolescents

Tattoos and piercings have become very common in today’s society, and teenagers are more likely than ever to have body art. Outdated stereotypes about body art cause concern for some parents, associating body art with criminal and gang activity, but those stereotypes are not only inaccurate, they can actually cause body art to be more dangerous.

Because of stereotypes like this, many parents approach the topic of body art strictly or judgmentally, driving many adolescents to pursue body modifications in secret.  When a teenager obtains tattoos or piercings without parental guidance, the health risks are much more serious.  Tattooing and piercing in reputable shops is statistically quite safe, with many precautions in place to prevent the spread of blood-borne pathogens and diseases and artists trained to spot signs of complications such as allergies early on.  Reputable shops, however, will not do work on teenagers without parental consent, so often when teenagers do not feel like they can talk to their parents about their desires for body art, they obtain their body modifications under illegal or unsafe conditions.  Many untrained individuals will tattoo minors using sharp objects and mascara or other inks not intended for use under the skin, and the tools and surroundings used by uncertified individuals are often unsanitary.  Additionally, there is the risk that when using an uncertified artist, the quality of the tattoo itself will be unsatisfactory and more likely to cause the child to regret the tattoo in the future.

This is not to say that a parent must allow their child to get tattoos or piercings to protect them from unsafe conditions, but parents can help prevent these conditions by responding properly when the topic is raised.  If a child expresses desire for tattoos or body piercings, it is important that the parent respond calmly and avoid overreacting.  When a parent is strict about the prospect of body art, it is most likely to alienate the child and cause them to disregard any advice on the topic.  Instead, it is important to listen to your child’s motivation for getting body art and discuss it with an open-mind.  It is much safer to tell a child that you want them to wait until they are a legal adult than to stigmatize the idea of body art altogether.  When a parent expresses panic or anger at the idea of body art, the child is much more likely to rebel and pursue body art under unsafe conditions.

It is important to remember that the stereotypes surrounding tattoos are statistically untrue – that adolescents who have tattoos and piercings are statistically successful students, maintaining A or B level grade point averages, and the large majority do not take part in any sort of gang-related activity.  With this in mind, parents can make a reasonable and educated decision about whether to allow their child to obtain body art.

The best way to approach the child’s desire for body art is to react calmly and explain your rules on the topic without any judgement.  Encourage the child that, if they do get body art, that they should wait until they have access to a professional artist and sterile environment.  Also, encourage the child to think carefully and for a long time about the kind of body art that they want, reminding them of the permanence of tattoos and what a large commitment body art truly is.  Make sure to create an open dialogue surrounding body art so that if a child does make an irresponsible decision regarding body art, they feel safe communicating about it and the parent can help prevent complications and ensure that the child is taking proper care of their new body art.  Also, remind children that though you understand that stereotypes are not true, some people may judge them for having tattoos or piercings.

Giving children the tools to make educated decisions about body art can help prevent bad decisions, regrettable tattoos, hepatitis, infection, and more.  Making sure that your child feels safe discussing body art with you can keep them safe and encourage them to communicate more easily with you about decisions they may be making.

For more information for parents and teachers, read our comprehensive guide to Child Safety.

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