Teenagers and Tattoos

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Calling all teenagers with tattoos! Are you on your way to the Red Cross to donate some blood? If you got tattooed last week, turn around and go back home. You have to wait a year from the time you had your tattoo before you can donate blood again. Sorry.

Teenagers and tattoos make for a fascinating topic especially among psychologists. They probe into the reasons why teenagers go for tattoos and body piercings so they can make their own fashion statement or simply declare a personal mission. Parents, on the other hand, agonize over their teenagers and tattoos, disturbed by the open rebellion demonstrated by sons and daughters who insist on having their own way because they feel strongly about their bodies and want to decide, minus parental interference, what to adorn their bodies with. For health practitioners, teenagers and tattoos are an ongoing concern because of the health consequences involved.

Teenagers and Tattoos - Psychologists Have it Down Pat

Teenagers’ struggle for identity has been dramatized and psychologically examined numerous times and older adults have to accept the fact that it’s a mindset that’s deeply ingrained in the teenager’s stream of consciousness. They are just discovering the world, discovering their own bodies and forming bonds and relationships. We therefore ought to give them the time and space, allowing them to make decisions regarding their bodies – up to a certain extent. It would be negligent for a parent to say, “I’m giving up on my daughter. I don’t have the stamina to argue with her anymore. If she wants to cover her whole body with tattoo art, so be it.”

“So be it” may have serious consequences. If you had the facts on tattoo you two can go to lunch and talk it over. Share what you know.

Psychologists say that part of the adolescent’s development is searching for a specific identity. They live in turbulent times and tattoos give them a sense of control and an outlet for individual expression. Andre Martin, who wrote an article on teenagers and tattoos, said that “Tattoos and piercing can offer a concrete and readily available solution for many of the identity crises and conflicts normative to adolescent development. In using such decorations, and by marking out their bodily territories, adolescents can support their efforts at autonomy, privacy, and insulation. Seeking individuation, tattooed adolescents can become unambiguously demarcated from others and singled out as unique. The intense and often disturbing reactions that are mobilized in viewers can help to effectively keep them at bay, becoming tantamount to the proverbial "Keep Out" sign hanging from a teenager's door.”

There’s also the quest for permanence according to Martin. He said that an adolescent’s desire to cling to a current certainty could motivate him to put down in ink what is valued and cherished today, but may not be the same thing that is valued and cherished 12 months down the road.

Teenagers and Tattoos - Parents and Health Practitioners in Partnership

Instead of going on an emotional rampage about your teenager and tattooing, knowing a few things about tattoos may help facilitate the dialogue between you and your teenager.

Here are a few things you can discuss with your teenager. It is likely that your teenager may not be aware of some of the health risks and may be imitating peers just for the sake of being accepted “into the fold.”

  • Tattooing is beautiful art, but it comes with a price. When teenagers decide to have a tattoo, they should know that it takes a few weeks to a year for the pierced site to recover completely.
  • Skin could undergo permanent discoloration when a tattoo is introduced.
  • If non-sterilized equipment is used, or the procedure is carried out the wrong way, one or several of the following can happen: bleeding, allergies, and infections caused by hepatitis, HIV, tetanus, bacteria and yeast). Redness, swelling and pain are also common complaints reported by teenagers.
  • While some places may charge only $50.00 for a tattoo, it could take as much as $1,000.00 to have it permanently removed.
  • And as mentioned earlier, tattooed teenagers will not be able to donate blood until after a year.

That’s the first stage – the talking part. You have to impress upon your teenager that there are risks involved. Some of these risks may be irreversible. Be aware too that in some states, the law allows high end tattooing only for people 18 years and older.

If your teenager still wants to go ahead with the tattoo, then we go to stage two. Stage two is the phase where damage control is all we can hope for. A determined person is a determined person, so what can you do? Not much really, short of grounding your teen at home and hiring a permanent body guard to make sure they make it to school and back to the house.

How do we minimize the harmful effects of tattooing?

  • Encourage your teenager to use the services of someone who has certification and is licensed to practice tattooing. This is tricky, because a certification could have been obtained only via an online course, and is not a full apprenticeship. The American Tattooing Institute offers a certification program and claims to operate following OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) standards. The truth is, however, there are no official certifications yet. Most tattoo salons are operated by “scratchers” – tattoo artists who are self-taught and have never undergone full apprenticeship under a master.
  • Tread cautiously when a tattoo artist claims to be a master. Many masters are actually new artists who just learned a few techniques. Scratchers have to be licensed by the state but do check out credentials in detail.
  • Canada does not have any specific legislation or legal requirements regarding tattooing, but the government did issue a document called, Guidelines for Infection Prevention and Control Practices for Tattooing and Body Piercing recommended by the Bureau of Infectious Diseases of Health Canada. The province of Alberta also came out with a document, Health Standards and Guidelines for Tattooing (.pdf) and the Health Standards and Guidelines for Body and Ear Piercing (.pdf) in June 2002. These documents describe infection prevention techniques that are critical in minimizing the risk of disease during the tattoo and piercing processes.
  • Persuade your teenager to opt for sterilized needles instead of piercing guns. Piercing guns are said to be rarely sterile and could even damage body tissue.
  • Advise your teenager that the tattoo artist must have a licence or certification (it should be hanging on the wall) and wears sterile, disposable latex gloves.
  • After the tattoo session, encourage your teenager to apply alcohol and request for antibiotic treatments at the first sign of infection.
  • Instead of a permanent tattoo, it may be a wise decision to go with a temporary tattoo that stays on the body for up to four weeks.

Teenagers and tattoos are a social phenomenon that is here to stay. It could be worse, you know, like your teen being hooked on cocaine or being a member of a street gang that has the community police watching them with a 24/7 radar.

As long as the tattoos were obtained in a safe manner, we don’t think teenagers and tattoos are something to lose sleep over. The artful expression may be just a phase your teenager is going through; his way of saying, “hey, man, look, I’m unique and special!”

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