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Getting a Tattoo

Teens, tattoos and piercings: Pediatricians share new recommendations for parents

"Mom, I think I want a tattoo.” A generation ago, this wouldn’t be a likely conversation starter between parents and the teens I care for — now, it’s increasingly common. In 2010, 38 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds had at least one tattoo, and 23 percent had piercings in locations other than an earlobe.

In Wisconsin, teens can’t get tattoos until the age of 18. Other than ear piercing, they have to wait until age 16 for a body piercing, but they must be accompanied by a parent or guardian who must provide written consent.

Despite the age barriers, many teens consider tattoos and piercings an acceptable way to express themselves and their individuality. And since societal taboos against body art have relaxed, your child may be considering getting one to celebrate their 18th birthday.

Guidelines to help parents

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently published guidelines to help doctors and parents talk to teens about the significant consequences associated with tattoos, as well as provide guidance on safe tattoo and piercing placement.

  • Visible vs. non-visible tattoo? While societal acceptance of tattoos has increased, 76 percent of those interviewed in a 2014 survey said they thought having a tattoo or piercing had hurt their chances of getting a job.
  • Rules and regs. If you are considering a tattoo or piercing, be sure the shop is regulated by the state, the tattoo artists use new gloves and needles, and the shop provides information on how to care for the area that has been tattooed or pierced. The most serious potential complication from body art is infection.
  • Immunize. Anyone considering a tattoo should make sure their immunizations are up-to-date and they are not taking any medication that compromises their immunity.
  • The long view. Teens should consider tattoos to be permanent. Tattoo removal is expensive, ranging from $49 to $300 per square inch, and it may not be totally effective. A tongue piercing could result in a chipped tooth. Teens need help understanding the potential long-term effects of their choices.

Although services like tattooing and piercing have come a long way, safety-wise, your teen still needs your support in considering tattoos or piercings. Try using a conversation starter, for example seeing a store clerk with many tattoos, to ask your teen if they like how tattoos look or have thought about getting one. This helps you gauge your teen’s feelings and knowledge level, as well as fill in any gaps they may have.

Let your teen know getting a tattoo or piercing is a long-term life decision, which they should discuss with you or another trusted adult. As always, encourage your teen to talk to their pediatrician about this issue.