By Jane Parent
Breast or bottle? Cloth or disposable? Work or stay home? Certain issues just seem to be parenting flashpoints. As our kids get older, I noticed another issue which seems to polarize in a surprising way. Strict, permissive, traditional, modern—they seem to meet and clash on this issue: ear piercing.
A decision which seems to you to be perfectly innocuous, and which simply makes your kid happy, is attacked and hotly debated by your sister, grandparents, your best friend of 25 years, your kid’s soccer coach. Everyone has an opinion about whether an 8-year-old girl’s ears should be pierced. And if you’re like me, you also bring plenty of baggage from your own childhood to the decision.
I had to wait until I was 12 to have my ears pierced. No reason was given, but that seemed to be the norm amongst my sixth-grade friends, one which we simply accepted as the way things were. For some reason, I also had to wait until after my older sister had her ears pierced. This was the kind of parenting decision that we middle/younger kids bitterly chafed against (and still don’t understand). What did her ears have to do with mine? And what was so special about the number 12? I was sick with envy when Katherine DeBoer showed up in sixth grade with tiny little turquoise studs. Like Scarlett O’Hara with a fistful of dirt in my hand, I vowed I’d never be unpierced again.
Can I Get My Ears Pierced?
One day when my daughter was 8, she asked if she could get her ears pierced. She was a good kid, who brushed her teeth and was mindful of personal hygiene (I mean, for a second grader). It seemed to me to be a small thing that made her happy. I felt like if I allowed her to do this one thing, it gave me more credibility later when I said no to something else. No way I was going to make her wait for no good reason. We traipsed to the mall, and in a snap, the deed was done. No big deal, right? Hoo boy, was I wrong. Family members and friends used phrases like “inappropriate,” “unnecessary,” and “just going to get infected.” You would’ve thought I had tattooed her face.
Like many other parenting decisions, to pierce or not to pierce is a family decision—and there is no shortage of strong opinions. I’ve noticed that it seems to boil down to about five different personality types in the ways in which parents (mostly mothers) approach this issue. Which one are you?
Moms and Ear Piercing
Strict Mom: No way, don’t even ask. You have to wait until you’re 14, because that’s how old she was. This strict prohibition is communicated ruthlessly and repeatedly from the first second a little girl is old enough even to notice earlobes. Strict Mom sees ear piercing as some sort of gateway drug into risky behavior. Strict Dad is a closely related phenomenon.
A relative told me he didn’t think girls should have their ears pierced before they were 14 because it made them look too mature and they would attract attention from older men—as if putting earrings on a girl were like a taxi cab switching on its light to indicate they were now sexually available. Kids: If you defy Strict Mom and get them pierced without permission, she’ll make you take them out when you get home. Seriously, don’t mess with her.
Permissive Mom: She wants her daughter to be happy. She’ll let her get her ears pierced, wear crop tops, and makeup whenever she wants to, too. Her little girl gets lattes and pedicures by the time she’s 10. She really makes all of us look mean, doesn’t she? It’s difficult to explain this kind of parenting style to your own child with “families do things differently” because the way your family does things always seems to come up short.
Can I, Mom?
Infant-Piercing Mom: She comes from a culture where a newborn baby girl doesn’t leave the hospital without pierced ears, and she is very blasé and dismissive of all safety concerns. She was pierced in infancy, and everyone in her family does it. Of course a girl’s ears should be pierced, and the sooner the better.
Leveraging Mom: She sees ear piercing as a quid pro quo. Want those little studs, sweetie? How desperate are you, because this mom is going to make you earn them. She will extract a clean room/promise to walk the dog after school/improved grades before she sanctions the highly desired trip to Claire’s at the mall. This mom is much more shrewd than I was. Darn it, why didn’t I think of that? I just gave it away for nothing.
Modern Mom: She sees the decision to allow piercing as an early demonstration to her daughter of her agency over her own body. She okays ear piercing, but only after she is certain her daughter is making an informed decision—and Modern Mom wants it done right, too. She has consulted the pediatrician and researched best piercing practices online. Ultimately, she takes her daughter to a tattoo parlor for the actual piercing because they are licensed and regulated, have higher standards, and more sanitary procedures, which is not necessarily true for the high school student wielding a piercing gun as her after school job at the mall.
Ear piercing still seems a small thing and not worth fighting about in the cosmic scheme of things. As for me, I’m saving all my energy for tattoos. Don’t even THINK about it.
Jane Parent is senior editor of Your Teen.