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So your kid wants a tattoo – NOW what?!

Neil Hedley talks to a group of parents about body art, its implications, and how to have "the talk" about it.
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Neil Hedley, July 1, 2013 9:52:07 AM

I had a conversation with my sister last night about her grandson.  (I guess technically, that makes him my “great nephew”, and while he definitely is great, the term seems kind of hokey.)  As he moves forward with his University career, it’s been suggested to him by more than one person that he should clean up his Facebook page, and maybe cut down on the “partying” photos that might hurt his chances of employment once he graduates. Indeed, I remember having the same conversation in one of my classes when I was a professor to young broadcasting students.  When someone from “the older generation” makes those kinds of suggestions, though, I’m finding it generally falls on unwilling ears who are more likely to dismiss it as a lack of understanding on the older person’s part.

So it is as well, when the subject of tattoos comes up.

Many moons ago, when Garth Brooks had a hit song with, “Friends In Low Places”, I had a popular parody song on my radio show called “Rings In Weird Places”.  Where Garth Brooks would sing,

“I guess I was wrong, I just don’t belong – but then, I’ve been there before. Everything’s alright, I’ll just say goodnight and I’ll show myself to the door.  Hey I didn’t mean to cause a big scene.  Just give me an hour and then… I’ll be as high as that ivory tower that you’re livin’ in…”

My version instead lamented certain forms of body art, saying,

“When I was a kid, the worst thing that we did was get caught with that long hair we wore. But today’s kids instead, punchin’ holes in their head, walkin’ ‘round all swelled up and sore. I think she’s too young for a stud in her tongue. What’s the deal with that big snake tattoo?  They’ll be impressed with the way that you’re dressed, when you go for a job interview.”

And for many parents I’ve been talking to, there’s the rub – the job interview.  It’s what worries my family about my great nephew’s Facebook page, and it’s what concerns plenty of parents about things like piercings, tattoos and hair choices that could only be deemed appropriate for the workplace if you were being interviewed by Salvador Dali.

When I tossed the subject out to a group of parents and friends, here’s where the conversation went:

From Alan, a wedding chaplain in Ottawa:

Past 16 years of age – you don’t have much say. My 30 year old has many and I couldn’t stop him. Other 2wo don’t. Just encourage them to not have it on the neck or face. I see many brides when in a strapless dress, you see their tat. So question them that they would be comfortable displaying them in public. Tats can be very private. Once had a bride in lovely dress with an angry goth zombie-looking tat on her shoulder blade.

From Cynthia in Oshawa:

They can do what they want when they’re 18. Although I want to encourage bodily autonomy, until then I’m also responsible for hopefully keeping them from making permanent decisions they may one day regret.

From Jodi in Waterloo:

I got my first one at 16. I’d like my Monkey to wait until she’s 18. I love tattoos but I really hope she puts thought in to it.

From Julie, mom of six in Burlington:

We laugh with my kids that as long as I have them, they stay the way they were the day I birthed ‘em….uncircumcised, no holes in ears and no tats. Let’s see what happens when they’re teens!

From Nadine in Toronto:

I don’t have any tattoos, nor do I want any. But my kids are my kids (not an extension of me), once they turn a certain age I can not control their actions, they get to make their own mistakes maybe they will get body art or piercings.

From Beth in Kitchener:

My daughter has 11 now – started when she was 16 as did my son (he only has 7 words on his inside forearm)… I have three small ones but didn’t get them until I was over 40.. Although I am not a huge fan of some of my daughter’s larger pieces, it’s her body and every one of them has special meaning for her. I’ve seen some pretty ugly tattoos, so I’m just happy my kids are not picking anything stupid.”

From Coleen in Toronto:

As parents who both HAVE tattoos and a 16 year-old boy, it’s already been discussed. I waited until I was nearly 30 years old and had something of deep meaning to put on my body; my husband, on the other hand, did his at a young age and has nothing but regrets.

…and then there’s Marci, who has ten tattoos herself and served up a wealth of information.

Well..I know that at least one of my son’s will want one and I am FINE with that as long as a) It’s at an age I approve of b) It’s something very meaningful that he won’t regret c)I take him to have it done by someone I know and trust. Most reputable tattoo shops won’t tattoo the face, neck or hand area on a person under the age of 30, unless they are already covered in tattoos because they know how it can impact things like applying for a job. They aren’t for everyone. In my case..when I go through something challenging or experience something want to memorialize, I get a tattoo. I’m also someone who has a lot of scars and I see those as permanent markings that I did not choose and that sometimes remind me of pain and fear…I like my tattoos, because they are permanent markings that I’VE CHOSEN and that symbolize Hope, Strength and Healing. As a woman with 10 tattoos myself, I can say that I find them incredibly empowering and do not regret a single one. If somebody wants to judge me because of them without first asking me about them, I say that’s their loss.

So the bottom line (of conventional wisdom) seems to be that it’s your kid’s body, it’s just up to us as parents to make sure they’re fully informed. Kids (and teens and even young adults) frequently seem to have an image of the job market as being a limitless pool of opportunity, where the closing of a door always results in the opening of a window. Those of us who’ve been around the block a few times know that isn’t always the case. However, as with all things, it’s far easier to have these kinds of conversations when your kids are already used to regular, open communication from you. If you’re expecting that they’ll honor your wishes simply because you’ve chosen this as the topic of your first genuine dialogue, you’re facing an uphill climb.

What do you think? Sound off in the comments below.

MORE THOUGHTS FROM NEIL HEDLEY:

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