I don’t care if my kids get tattoos, but I do have a few ground rules

Guest post by Amy Callison
Mom Tattoo
By: Ryan BorenCC BY 2.0

My two-year-old just learned to say “tattoo.” I have two tattoos, and he’s very interested in them. I’m not sure he understands what tattoos are — maybe he thinks Mommy’s skin just grew these intricate designs, like he grew the mole on his leg that he’s also very interested in.

Maybe one day he’ll want a tattoo of his own, and if he does, there are six rules:

Minimum age: 16

I’ll admit this is kind of arbitrary, but it seems intuitively to be a good age. It’s when I got my first tattoo. Whether I made a good decision on it is up for debate, but that’s where the other rules come in.

I get to approve the design

I don’t have to love it, but it does have to be a good-quality, aesthetically pleasing tattoo.

… and location

There’s a good chance any tattoo done at age sixteen will eventually become regrettable, so it has to be some place that can be easily hidden. No neck tattoos. Obviously no face tattoos. No hand tattoos. No huge chest pieces. Forearm maybe, but we’ll see.

No names of people, bands, logos, cartoon characters, or political symbols

Ask anyone who got any one of those inked into their skin in their teens and I guarantee that most of them don’t like that band any more, don’t see that person any more, or aren’t quite so in love with the Tasmanian Devil. The tattoo I got when I was sixteen was a purple anarchy symbol on my ankle. Though I still sometimes read some of the great anarchist authors, my beliefs have changed. Luckily I was able to say that anarchy symbol was just an “A” for my first initial until I got it covered up a few years ago.

I get to see the shop and the artist’s portfolio

This is pretty common-sense. It has to be a shop that sterilizes its equipment properly, and an artist who is actually an artist. Same goes for piercings. No mall piercings for my kids.

There will be a waiting period

Hang your tattoo design on your wall and look at it for at least two months. I follow this practice myself. Unfortunately it means I haven’t yet got my next tattoo because none of my ideas have passed the two-month test. I’m all for impulsivity but not when it comes to something that’s going to be on you the rest of your life.

Maybe my kid won’t like these rules. Maybe he won’t want a tattoo at all. For now, I keep telling him when he pokes at my tattoos and says “Flowers. Tattoo. Mommy” in his sweet little voice that, if he wants, he can have one some day, too.

Comments on I don’t care if my kids get tattoos, but I do have a few ground rules

  1. It took me 32 years before I got my first tattoo. My husband started collecting young. Both of us love our tattoos, and have similar rules for our soon to be baby. 🙂 Because if she is anything like her folks she will have a few tattoos someday.

    I will encourage her to wait until after 21 for her first… 🙂

  2. One of the pieces of “life advice” I give to my graduating seniors is this: “If you want a tattoo, draw it out, put it in a drawer, and leave it there for a year. If you still want it when you see it again, go ahead and get it.”

    • A year was my rule too. I worked on my first tattoo design for a year and still love it even though it doesn’t totally match up to who I am anymore. My next one I’ve plotted for a year, may take me another year to get it but that’s because I’m waiting for a friend. I think a year is a really good limit since it’s going to be there for a very, very long time and it’s a lot of work or money to cover it up or get it removed.

      • A year is my fiance and my’s rule of thumb, too. Granted, I do have an impulse tattoo, but I think it’ll be fine (and if not, no one sees it anyway 😉 )

    • I did this- drew up a design when I was 15, hung it on my mirror. It followed me through three moves, graduation high school, living on my own etc, and I finally got it with minor changes when I was 19.
      Another design came to me when I was 15-16 and I just *knew* it was going to happen- but I waited until I was 25, because that’s when it felt right. I figure 10 years of mulling and the emotional significance of it would mean it was right. My only other tattoo was a piece of flash and somebody saying “let’s go”. I think it’s my favorite of the three, even though the least amount of thought went into it.

  3. I made a six month waiting rule for tattoos when I was 18. I was 31 before I actually wanted something for longer that a few weeks. I actually ended up waiting about 18 months to actually get the tattoo just to make sure. 😉

  4. My parents made us wait till we were 18. Their theory was that after 18, we were adults and they couldn’t tell us what to do anymore, though they STRONGLY advised against it. I’ll do the same, though with less opposition to the basic idea of a tattoo. I have three and my brother has two.

  5. In my state, the law is one has to be 18yo before getting a tattoo. I tend to figure out a design then hold on to it for a while to see if I still like it. And I’ve talked to my kids a lot about doing just that. Since they will be 18yo, I’m not going to really have much say, and I wouldn’t tell them no to it anyway. But having real discussion about what they want, why they want it, and where they want it is always a good plan.

    • I just wanted to throw out that if you live in a state where the legal age to get a tattoo is 18, don’t go to an artist who is willing to do one on someone who’s younger – if they’re willing to break that rule, imagine all the sanitation rules they’re willing to break! Also, look into how long tattooing has been legal in your state. I live in southern MA and since tattooing was illegal here for a long time, sometimes you’ll find better artists who have more experience in Rhode Island. It’s good to be familiar with your state’s laws!

      • I don’t necessarily agree with this. I got my first tattoo at 17 in a state where the legal age was 18. The guy who did it was a friend of my dad’s and was willing to bend the rules for me. He always passed his health department inspections and was a great artist. I still love that tattoo.

  6. For all my tattoos, I knew what I wanted for a long time, but left the particulars of the design up to the artist (obviously, this means I’m very choosey about who does my tattoos). When she was three, my daughter decided her first tattoo would be a tiger and her second tattoo would be a mermaid, which she suggested we could get together. Assuming she’s still into this idea when she turns 18, I’m all in.

  7. My mom let me get a tattoo when I was 16 with very similar rules. It is on my right hip bone so it can easily be hidden. I got a small cartoonish dragon in purple and blue sitting atop a Japanese character that means ‘Now’. It was my reminder to myself to live in the present.

    About 9 years later I learned I had a dragon spirit guide. Also,15 years later, I’m pretty decent at living in the present moment. Having the constant reminder very helpful!

  8. My hubby and I just talked about this. my idea is to offer to pay for my daughter’s first tattoo at 18, IF I approve the design (much like your standards) and placement (again, nothing that can’t be covered for a job interview/work) and that she wait at least 2 months from picking the design until she gets it.

  9. i like all those rules except the cartoon one. my favorite cartoon is and always has been digimon since omg 6th grade and i’m now 26, it also helped me meet someone who despite a big fight once, are the closest friend i could ever have without them being my s.o. it also got me started in the convention running community. (we did panels on digimon for years.)

    for this reason we’ve planned to get tattoos from it for years. (i have a need phobia so this is a big step for me.) both of us want to get matching black gears from season one on us to look like they are embedded just like devimon did to his victims to turn them evil.

    the other one a group of us wants is a black x on the forearm top, from the cartoon one piece. all the guys in the crew got it to show their friendship in one arc. a huge group of us have become super close and bonded together over this series.

    both are cartoons, both have very deep, important meanings. so that’s the only rule i disagree with. i’d more so add to that list the kid has to give the reason why the design they want is special enough to want it.

    another group of my friends in chicago all got matching “pirate” themed tattoos that one of them designed but it was because that person got diagnosed with a degenerative nerve disorder at 22. and they had all been friends since diapers almost. so it was important to them show support for him.

    that’s just my 2 cents on that i guess.

    • I think the distinction here is the cartoon at a young age. At 26, planning to get a cartoon/band/etc. is different from doing it at 16. Also worth noting is that every person is different and has different opinions and beliefs regarding “regrets.”
      All of this is just to say that I totally feel you on the “Cartoons can be important and influential” bit because it’s totally true. It’s also totally true that a pop culture reference you love at 16 may not be one that you love forever, and I think that’s the OP’s message.

      • Yes, it definitely was my message. Also, if my son chose a really cool, non-mainstream cartoon, that also has some artistic merit in my totally biased arbitrary opinion, I might bend the rule.

  10. I helped my little sister get her first tattoo (against my preference, honestly, but she was 18 and old enough to choose). My real concern wasn’t the first tattoo, which she had thought on for a long time. I had reservations about a second tattoo. Seems like people who get one get super inspired and get a whole bunch after. My help was contingent on her waiting a year for a second tattoo if she wants one.
    At 18, I’m sure that seemed like eternity to her, but I wouldn’t help her without it. (It wasn’t my place to stop her either way.)

    • As someone who impulsively got a second tattoo (the SAME day I got my first one), I can definitely appreciate this. I thought long and hard about the first one and still love it. However, the second one was clearly not well-planned or something I felt strongly about. And sure enough, several years later I had it redone and turned it into something else. But apparently I learn things slowly because when I had it redone I didn’t do enough research on what I wanted and the artist. The coverup is certainly better than the original, but I still often think about getting the whole thing lasered off and starting over. Unfortunately, no one in my family really had or talked about tattoos and therefore no one had any advice or experience to share.

  11. I think your rules are great. I pretty much followed these rules myself. I got my first tattoo at 18 and now I feel like it’s terribly girly and cliche, but I still just kind of love it anyway. But yeah, when I was 16 I had a love affair with fairies, the Amy Brown kind. I wanted a tattoo of them so badly, but by the time 18 rolled around I couldn’t stand to look at them. I’m so glad I kept on looking at them. I use that “keep looking at it” rule myself and I’ve not gotten many tattoos!

  12. I got my first tattoo at 25. I had wanted that tattoo in the spot it went since I was 16. I’m glad I waited. My pain tolerance went up from when I was 16 to 25, and by that point I was positive it was what I wanted. These rules are the same rules my mom gave me when I told her I wanted my tattoo, and they worked!

  13. My brother wanted a tattoo so badly, but my parents would not sign off for it; they had no problem with him getting one, but they wanted him to do it independently when he was of age. I think I really like that idea, because, for one thing, then a kid can never come back to you and say, “Mom! What were you thinking? Why did YOU let me get this thing?” if they DO regret it someday. Kind of a Cover Your A** approach to parenting, but … I think it works in this instance! (Not to say you are responsible if you let a kid do it at 16 … but, as a high school teacher, I have to say 16 year olds are notoriously fickle! The two-month waiting rule is a really good one.)

  14. I totally agree with setting down ground rules for kids and tattoos. I was 18 when I got my first tattoo, and my daughter will have to wait until then as well.

    I also fully agree with checking out the studio, artist, and artwork before anything gets done.

    I will admit though that in terms of keeping the artwork around for a certain amount of time, I would be far less inclined to push a rule like that. Maybe it is because most of my pieces are very large and are all custom and designed by the tattoo artist. I honestly usually only see my artwork a week or less before the day of my tattoo, but I spend a lot of time researching the artist, and I always do a consult or two to get the feeling and meaning right.

    I think for me I would need to understand what the meaning is behind the tattoo for my child, and if that makes sense and the artist and artwork is good, I’m more of a “go to it” kind of person.

    Another big ground rule for me is that you have to pay for it on your own. So, if you don’t have the money you get to sit and stew about the idea and the images before you even go talk to an artist.

  15. In our family, we say 18. Same goes for other permanent things – like those big earring holes. My friend’s husband has had his out for 6 years and his earlobes are still the same.

  16. I got my first one at 32. Now I have 2. My rules for my daughters would be very similar to this, just a bit more strict. Luckily they have no desire to after seeing mine, because they know they are done with needles and they don’t like needles! But, they have to be an adult, it has to be easily covered up for work, school or church, or any other place they wouldn’t feel right showing it, it has to be a design that they can live with for the rest of their life, and that’s about it.

  17. I seem to be more strict with myself than the previous posters! My rule is that I have to wait five years with the same design AND location before I get it. (Right now, I’ve had two separate designs ‘in waiting’ for longer than that because I’m waiting on the money to get them done right.)

    • I’m not sure. I guess it depends on what kind of ‘adult’ you mean. My oldest daughter will turn 18 halfway through her senior year of high school. While 18 is the legal age, I’m going to follow the ‘my house, my rules’ kind of parenting with her. My parents did this to me and I think it’s more than fair. I didn’t always like it, but I accepted it. If my ‘adult’ daughter wants me to pay for a tattoo, then I feel like I have some input (same as with a car, college, apartment/house, although I can’t say for sure that I’ll help her with any of that stuff. She’s only 8 right now). She’s welcome to use her own money as she wishes.

      If she wants to move out, support herself, and pay for the tattoo on her own, then I won’t interfere (but I WILL give my honest opinion if asked) 🙂

    • I can see what you’re saying, but for me, it’s not about imposing rules on a legal adult (which I would try to avoid, because I hate that nonsense. Unless they’re housemates, in which case it is good to have some rules to make everything go smoothly) It’s about giving them guidelines when they’re young so that they’re hopefully less likely to end up with regrets as adults.

      • “Guidelines” is the key word. You hope you give them the foundation they need to make the right decisions. Rules about what an adult can or can’t do to their own body are just potential backfires waiting to happen, and just seem bossy and controlling. Everyone has their own mistakes to make.

    • I don’t think that it’s fucked up at all. Parenting is a continuum. My mother’s still my mother, even though I have children of my own. Does she have rules for me? Not exactly, but if I were to say to her “I think I’m going to get my nose pierced” she would probably say “I really wish you wouldn’t” and would have a list of reasons why. I wouldn’t necessarily listen, but I sure would respect her opinion on the matter much more than regular Joe Schmoe on the street. I don’t get the arbitrary end of parenting at 18 or when they move out or whatever. Legal adult or not, people need help (making good decisions, being financially solvent, etc) from their parents.

  18. I don’t plan to have anything to do with my daughter’s potential tattoos, other than sharing my opinions, if she brings it up. Otherwise, she can wait until she’s 18 and decide for herself. I got my first tattoos at 18. My mom was not pleased at all, but couldn’t stop me. I still like the design, but I should have listened to the first shop that told me the details would blur unpleasantly unless they were bigger. I went with another shop who would do it the size I wanted (also cheaper-never a good reason), and indeed, they are blurry. Day to day, it doesn’t matter much because they’re on my lower back. I would advise more caution with forearm tattoos than the author. I say this with forearm tattoos that I love, and chose impulsively at a young age. My attitude at the time was somewhere between “F anyone who doesn’t like them” and “I can wear 3/4 sleeve shirts when I need to.” Then came warm weather at a conservative job. Not the end of the world, but it made for some suffering. Also, the more tattoos you show, the more well meaning but rude people will try to talk to you about them. More visibility also means more of you facing them yourself. All that said, I think most people worry too much about what tattoos to get. Regret is a choice, to some extent.

  19. My daughter didn’t want tattoos but she did want piercings so I told her she could get 1 piercing at 16 and she couldn’t get another one for another year and so on and after she was 18 she could do whatever she wanted.
    She did get 3 piercings at 16, 17 and 18 and eventually let her mouth piercings close and sometimes puts a ring in her nose piercing but usually leaves it alone.

    My family thought I was nuts when I let her have one at 16 but I figured that I wanted to help her so she didn’t go nuts with it at 18 getting a ton of piercings or tattoos at once without thought. We went to a reputable piercing artist, she was responsible for taking care of her piercing and paying for it. I went with her and stood by her side as she was pierced and I think that discussing it, researching it and having a waiting period and a maximum amount were all helpful boundaries. She also learned that it isn’t wise to get a piercing in a place where it can’t be hidden when you are job searching because depending on the jobs you want some employers won’t hire you or will require you don’t wear a piercing at work and if it is a new piercing there can be issues with this if you don’t want the piercing to close up. (I have worked with people who were in their 20s who were outraged that their employer would ask them to remove a piercing they just had done and I was always shocked that they didn’t realize that rightly or wrongly some employers will dictate that so I am glad my daughter learned that at 16 and not 21).

    Giving her control within limits was a way for her to learn to really think about how she wanted to alter her body and the responsibilities that come along with such a decision.

  20. My partner is extensively tattooed, and I have several and plan to have many more. When we have children we will not impose any rules (except you pay for it with your own money, and you wait until you are 18, as is the law in Australia). What we will do however is sit our child(ren) down and talk to them about it. We want them to see a talented artist, to get tattoos that will last on skin without blurring, and to think about their decision.
    My mum never tried to stop me from getting my first tattoo, but she urged me to get my first one (at 18) in an easily concealable spot, and something that was small, so I knew what I was getting myself into, and not end up with something I would regret. I will probably take the same route with my child(ren) in the future.

    • I think this is a really key point I have seen a lot in this thread – communicating about tattoos is essential. I so wish I had someone close to me with tattoo experience when I was younger to help me avoid some of the mistakes I made.

      On a related note, I think being open to discussing body modification and having calm, educated discussions can prevent body modifications done out of spite. I know when I was a teen, many friends and I had parents that simply said “no piercings, no tattoos, no way.” They didn’t have any themselves and wouldn’t have conversations about their reasoning. Therefore we took matters into our own hands and did it behind their backs. And of course, like someone mentioned, a person willing to pierce or tattoo someone younger than the legal minimum age, is also likely to circumvent other laws as well. So our parent’s “no way, no how, no exceptions” policies ended up with us going behind their backs and putting ourselves in some fairly risky situations.

  21. I just had this conversation with my mother! I sent her a photo of my 2 year old daughter, who had taken a purple marker to her arm. I joked about her wanting tattoos just like her mommy, so my mother asked me what I will do when she’s 16 & comes home with a tattoo. (I was 14 when I got my 1st, it has since been covered up with a bigger version. Same object, different design). Anyway, I told her I had hoped that she would let me take her to get her 1st tattoo at 18, and I want to help her pick something meaningful to her & find a location that can be easily hidden if need be. I have never regretted any of my 8 tattoos (ok, the 1st one I guess!) but I have regretted the location because they were a pain to conceal when I was working in an office environment (I couldn’t wear skirts because of them). So I guess that is just to say that I need to teach my daughter that you’re feelings about the tattoo may change, and your life circumstances may change, so choose wisely!

  22. Hhhmm, in my opinion controlling placement of the tattoo, giving them a list of designs they can’t have, the fact that you have to approve it, all of this control over it kind of takes away from what a tattoo is. A tattoo is very personal, a self-expression, a body modification. If you don’t feel like they can make the right decision maybe they shouldn’t be allowed to get one yet. I understand your rules, I actually feel they’re very good rules, especially the last two. I just feel like trying to control a tattoo to that extent really takes away from the beauty and meaning of body art.

    • Good point. I should have put in a paragraph saying that if they can come up with a reasoned argument against any of these rules I’m probably going to be pretty flexible. It’s more about having a discussion, and me helping them use some common sense that I didn’t have at that age.

  23. Obviously, parenting is a very personal choice. What works for some people would not work for others. I had a mother who had the same rules (except for the last one). She took me to get my first tattoo at 16, and my next one at 17. I wish she hadn’t. I was not a mature 16 year old. I had absolutely no foresight that I would not always be shaped the same, or like the same things. I picked my first two designs off the wall at a shop that I knew absolutely nothing about. The first one was small and concealable, but I chose it because it was pink. My second one is a huge tribal design on my lower back. My third, I was 18 but got on an impulse. That one I’m considering having covered. It’s not that I regret those tattoos necessarily, but I wish I had been taught to be more thoughtful, to make those decisions on my own instead of putting trust that my mom knew what would work for me. The truth was, I didn’t even really want a tattoo at the time, I wanted to get pierced, but my mom said piercings were too permanent and tattoos would be a bonding experience. Even though I had expressed interest in someday getting a tattoo, I think I would have waited longer, and been more thoughtful if she hadn’t stepped in to help. I really wanted to have that bonding experience with her, and trusted that the tattoo rules that worked for her were good for me as well. They weren’t.

    When my son hits 16, I want to sit him down and tell him why the piercings I bought for myself and got alone after turning 18, I have never regretted. I would rather he have that experience with body art than the one I had with my first couple tattoos. I also hope that I can explain the rules I have set for myself as an adult, and hope he adapts them as he sees fit for his life and his body.

  24. I haven’t really put too much thought into this, but I think I would tell my (hypothetical future) child to wait until he/she was 18 before getting a tattoo. I didn’t seriously want a tattoo until I was 20, and didn’t actually get one until I was 24, but if I think about what I probably *would* have gotten had I gotten a tat at 16, it’s a little scary. Haha.

    I think my rule will probably be that he/she has to wait until he/she is 18, and I will encourage him/her to get my input on potential designs, artists, etc., although obviously at 18 it wouldn’t/couldn’t be mandatory. If Hypothetical Kid really wanted a tattoo before turning 18, I’d tell him/her to really work on and perfect the design they wanted and keep it hanging somewhere in their room. And, if they still wanted that same design after turning 18 and thinking about the design for a while, then go for it!

    I had the idea for my tattoo for a good three years before I finally got it (after a tatted friend said, “You know, if you’ve wanted the same tattoo for that long, you’re probably safe getting it”). I’d recommend my kid wait at least 6 months or so to make sure the design is actually one he/she really wants, because I’ve had other fleeting ideas for a second tattoo but none of them have really stuck around like the first one did… so, five years later, I still just have one. But, man, do I love that one tattoo. 🙂

Read more comments

Join the Conversation