Our daughter was 16 when she started lobbying hard for a tattoo. Our quick, easy answer was an unequivocal, “NO!”
Teenagers often don’t accept no at face value, though. So, the conversation was far from over.
“You’re too young.”
“No, I’m not.”
“State law says you are. You’re not legally able to get a tattoo without our consent until you’re 18.”
It was nice having the state on our side on this issue. But there are also laws in place governing when teens can drink alcohol or use marijuana, and teens will often find a way to partake in these activities before they are of legal age. Getting a tattoo is no exception.
Luckily for us though, our daughter is a rule-follower. In the case of the much sought after tattoo, we knew we had a grace period, as we were confident she wouldn’t get one against our will before she was of age.
Our primary concern was that her desire to get inked might be fleeting, but tattoos are forever. We also outlined other concerns such as safety, potentially limited employability, and possible regret over design or placement if she were to choose them so young.
We weren’t alone in our concern over our teen getting tattooed. In a recent survey outlined by the Mott Poll Report, 27% of parents of teens age 16-17 years old indicated their teen asked them for permission to get a tattoo, and 5% of parents said their teen already had one. The survey found most parents of teens in this age group are adamantly opposed to their kids getting a tattoo; 75% stated they believe 18 or older should be the minimum age required for getting a tattoo without parental consent. Top concerns for parents over teen tattoos include possible infection or scarring, diseases like hepatitis or HIV, later regret, and negative judgment by potential employers.
Unwilling to take no for an answer, our daughter continued to ask for a tattoo monthly, sometimes even weekly. We came to understand she was serious about her desire and highly committed to changing our minds. She knew we weren’t against tattoos in principle, as her father and I both sport ink, so she believed she could wear us down and convince us to capitulate.
To bridge the gap between our firm no and her doggedness, we told her if she still wanted a tattoo once she turned 18, not only would we fully support her decision, but we’d treat her to one for her birthday. This was a much more palatable answer and one she accepted.
Saying yes to a future tattoo redirected her energy from endless debate towards planning all things involved in getting inked. She had months to hem and haw, go back and forth, and decide for sure.
We’re not sure we’ve ever seen her anticipate anything more, and she never did change her mind.
In fact, she went for her first tattoo just two days after turning 18 and quickly added two more—proving it’s true that tattoos can be addictive, another good reason to hold your teen off as long as you can.
Over the stretch of time between when she first asked and when we came to an agreement, we had the benefit of hearing her hash out everything we were concerned about as parents. She sought out a highly skilled and recommended artist in a reputable establishment. She picked locations on her body she can easily cover if necessary. And she chose meaningful designs that nod to how she grew up and what she values in life.
All because she listened AND waited.
There’s no point in telling an 18-year-old they can’t get a tattoo.You can point out why you think a tattoo is a bad idea if that’s your stance, but they aren’t likely to care. But I believe the longer you can hold your teen off the better—saying no until your child is of age buys you time to reiterate the potential cons of tattoos and to emphasize their permanent nature.
In our case, we did our best to calmly and rationally explain our concerns to our daughter. We encouraged her to make informed, well thought out decisions about how she permanently decorates her body.
You can’t stop the tides, but you can help your teen learn how to surf them safely and appropriately.
If it’s too late and your kid got tattooed without your permission, and you’re angry, shrug it off as quickly as you can.
Preserve the relationship by loving them anyway—tattoos and all.