Our kids are more open to tattoos than generations before.
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If your teen is asking for a tattoo, here’s what you need to know now to have a positive conversation, complete with a printable contract.

The SNL skit had us rolling with laughter.  Maybe you remember it:  a young mom sports a trendy tat on her lower back.  Fast-forward 30 years, and the adorable graphic and wording “Pretty Lady” becomes “Pretty Sad”.

My husband and I found the scenario hilarious for one simple reason: we knew it would never happen to our kids.  After all, our sweet grade schoolers were upstairs, fast asleep in their jammies. 

The sleeping little one I used to be able to control is now a thing of the past.
Sad to say, these days are long gone.

Our children knew our views on tattoos and surely would never cross our line.  Or so we thought.

Teens and Tattoos

Tattoos have become so mainstream for teens and young adults that the American Academy of Pediatrics, for the first time, has released tattoo recommendations.  These include talking points for pediatricians regarding tattoo safety, placement and state age regulations.

For better or worse, we can thank Millennials for breaking the barrier of tattoos as social stigma, with 38% claiming at least one tattoo, as opposed to only 6 percent of baby boomers with a tattoo. 

Whether you are a fan or foe of teens and tattoos, gone are the days when tattoos were reserved for biker dudes and military veterans. 

Young professionals, mid-life moms, and businessmen are sporting tats and taking pride in the personal symbolism behind them.  In fact, many of the pediatricians and medical workers discussing those AAP guidelines with patients have at least one tattoo themselves.

I created the Body Art Contract because I wish I’d had this tool.  My husband and I based our assumptions about tattoos on our experiences, instead of doing research and listening to our kids’ thoughts.

Even medical professionals often have tattoos.
The Pediatrician talking to your son or daughter very likely has a tat under that sleeve.

What Parents Think

I posted the simple question “What are your rules on tattoos?” to an online support group for parents and was floored by the responses.  In just a few hours, hundreds of opinions about teens and tattoos rolled in on this hot button topic.

The most vocal parents, it seemed, were polar opposites.  From militant responses such as “We will cut them off if they get a tattoo” to parents who proudly posted photos of the matching tattoo they had gotten with their child. Everyone had an opinion.

Health and Safety

The subject of teens and tattoos first hit my parenting radar when I read a release form for my son’s high school senior trip.  Since the legal age for tattooing is only 16 in the state of Florida, where his class was vacationing, the release form asked for parental consent or denial of permission.

Shocked, I brought up the topic with my son.  Turns out, he had no interest in getting a tattoo, but volunteered that some of his classmates probably would.  Sure enough, he had stories to back up his suspicions when the trip was over.

Like many parents I know, my husband and I labored under very outdated information when it came to the topic.  It turned out, our kids were much more informed than we were when it came to current research on tattoo safety.

I wish we had done our homework and put together a contract like this one, that would have led to a positive conversation on the topic of tattoos.

Outdated Ideas

We pictured tattoo “parlors” as dirty places filled with drunken sailors.  In reality, “the rate of complications from tattoo placement is unknown, but believed to be rare.” (AAP Guidelines)

Body art and its practitioners have come out of the shadows, to a large degree.  Steeper competition within the industry has brought higher standards, both for quality and hygiene.

But, even with better choices, the regulations for teens and tattoos vary by state.  The dyes used for tattoos are loosely governed, not by medical standards, but by the food and drug administration.

“The pigments used in the inks are color additives, which are subject to premarket approval under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. However, because of other competing public health priorities and a previous lack of evidence of safety problems specifically associated with these pigments, FDA traditionally has not exercised regulatory authority for color additives on the pigments used in tattoo inks. The actual practice of tattooing is regulated by local jurisdictions.”

U.S. Food and Drug Administration

What You Need To Know

My idea of tattoo establishments was outdated and messy.
My ideas of tattoos were outdated and messy.

Many of the musicians, movie stars and role models our young adults admire have tattoos and cherish their meanings.  Once I realized this, it opened up a new level of conversation with my kids and even people I worked with.

Turns out, many of the people I interact with every day have hidden tattoos.   My very responsible next-door neighbor had both his daughter’s names tattooed in beautiful calligraphy on his left upper arm.  Others have symbols or names of grandparents, children, or life events. 

I’ve even seen some flamboyant tattoos alerting a medical condition, where a clunky bracelet was once the only option.

Tattoos and Employment

The employment landscape has changed drastically for the next generation, with many office jobs becoming mobile and off-site.  Work dress codes have become much more relaxed, even for higher paying jobs.

The old idea of tattoos affecting employment is less of an issue today than ever before.  But it still holds weight.  As recently as 2012, 24 % of people polled believed there was a link between tattoos and “deviant behavior”. 

Young adults need to be reminded that, unlike college, they will soon be required to interact with people of all ages.  It’s quite possible their supervisor or employer will be someone of another generation who may not consider tattoos professional, no matter how meaningful they may be.

The survey results from Salary.com sum it up:

In a nutshell, the older you are the less tolerant you become regarding tattoos. Not surprisingly, people 18-25 were the most accepting of tattoos in the office with only 22% claiming they are inappropriate. That percentage jumps in each age group, maxing out at 63% of people age 60 and older finding tattoos objectionable at work.


How to React

If you’re in the middle of the teens and tattoos dilemma, consider these tips for navigating a healthy discussion with a positive outcome.

  1. Don’t overreact. Ask yourself if this is a hill you want to die on.  For some parents, the answer is straightforward, for others not so much.
  2. Listen to your young adult. Take time to understand what is at the root of their desire for a tattoo, without judgment. 
  3. Present facts, not scare tactics. Use the research I’ve provided here, or do your own.  Be brave enough to talk with a tattoo artist and ask questions.
  4. Consider other options. If your teen sees a tattoo as a statement of independence, you may be able to negotiate a less permanent form of expression.

Our Story

Parenting is humbling, to say the least.  When our young adult proudly sent us a photo of their new tattoo, both my husband and I were shocked.

Lots of emotions bubbled up, but fortunately we kept our cool.  Together, we sat down with our teen and talked through our feelings about the tattoo and the way it was presented.

When all was said and done, we were clear on one fact: the days of tucking our children in bed in their snuggly pajamas were gone for good. 

Although we may not agree with every decision they make, they are wonderful, caring, and thoughtful human beings.  And-they have enough sense not to choose a “Pretty Lady” tattoo-I hope.

Teens and tattoos- what parents need to know now.
Is your teen thinking about getting a tattoo? It's time to talk about it.
Download this free tattoo contract and start the conversation with your teen.