unicorn_tattoos_2A A friend recently posted a status on Facebook saying her four-year-old asked to get a tattoo for her birthday — and “not one that washes off in the bathtub.” Of course, the idea of a four-year-old getting a REAL tattoo is ludicrous (and probably illegal), but it had me wondering — what if that four-year-old was sixteen? Would it be ok then?

I have three tattoos, and I love them all. BUT, and it’s a big but, I didn’t get any of them until last year, when I was twenty-five. While I flirted with the idea for several years leading up to it, I never felt totally committed to having ink in my body forever until I felt it was something worth embedding. The tattoos I have now all mean something to me, something incredibly important — I shudder to think what I would have gotten tattooed on me when I was sixteen.

This aside, the question still stands: would you let your teen get a tattoo? Why or why not?

Comments on Would you let your teen get a tattoo?

  1. It depends on the kind of tattoo they want, the likelihood that my teen actually WANTS the tattoo and isn’t doing it for crazy peer pressure/fashion statement/rebellion reasons, and I would say absolutely NO NAMES on the tattoo. xD If it’s a small tattoo somewhere that it can be easily hidden, and something that I don’t think they’re too likely to regret later on (say, if it’s just a Chinese symbol or something equally benign) then, I’d probably consider it.

    • “just” a chinese symbol? I would exercise great caution in possible translations that aren’t what were expected…these are a great source of amusement to anyone who can read the kanjii

      • As a Japanese major, I definitely second this. Unless you or someone with you can read kanji, do not take the tattoo artist’s word for what it says! I have yet to meet one that used a reputable source for translations, and it has yielded results like a guy who wanted to have his arm say “dragon soul” which is 竜霊, ryuutama, and it actually says 外人、gaijin, which means foreigner. XD

  2. I agree with the previous commenter. Depends on what it is, where it is and why they are doing it. I would want them to think about it for at least 6-12 months before deciding for sure. Absolutely nothing spur of the moment. Nothing matching any friends or symbolic of any boyfriends/girlfriends. I remember really wanting a tattoo when I was a teenager. I ended up getting it when I was 18, and it was the same tattoo I wanted for three years (an ankh on my ankle). So if my daughter was like that, then sure, I would take her somewhere reputable and safe and make sure she got the best one she could get.

    • I found the design for my first tat when I was 16 and held onto it for two years before getting it. My theory then was if I still LOVE it in two years I’ll always LOVE it. It’s a small primitive little frog design (not tribal) I totally agree with your point of view

  3. While I do have a tat of my own (received after getting married at the age of 28 while we were on our honeymoon), I wouldn’t let me my teen get a tat. Once they’re 18? It’s their call. I would go with them to the tattoo parlor and talk designs. But younger than that, I tend to think it’s a commitment that might be a bit much to take on. I know that at 16, my idea of permanent was different than what it is now.

    • I know that at 16, my idea of permanent was different than what it is now.

      Heh, this is an excellent way of putting it.

      I don’t think anyone was ever harmed by waiting two years for a tattoo. If it’s something they want forever, they’ll still want it then, right?

  4. i would most defiantly let my kids get tattooed as long as i could take them when i was 15 my mom suggested i get a tattoo then took me to a place where she felt i was safe to get one… i plan on doing the same

  5. I heard a rumor (that I never researched or followed up) that in my home state it was illegal for a shop to give tattoos to people under 18, even with consent. In light of that I was content to wait until 18 and I’ll advise my children to do the same. “When you’re old enough to vote for a political candidate or die for your country, you’re old enough to decide if you want to permanently modify your body. How ’bout a tongue ring?”

    • I’m pretty sure this is true in Washington. You can get a piercing under 16 with parental permission but not a tattoo.

      • It’s true in Washington, and last I heard the age was 18, not 16.

        (Incidentally, my mother used to work in childcare and said that the reason that law came about was that little kids were coming into daycare with giant butterflies tattooed on their chests. o_O Dunno if that’s apocryphal, but if it’s true, it’s MESSED UP!)

  6. I have had a lot of my friends when I was younger get their tattoo’s under 18. Some of them were for personal reasons and they still love it. But many of my male friends and a few female got them because they wanted to fit in and look cool. Some of them charged by hormones and being very angry. Those few regretted it.
    My mothers advice? Refuse to let him get one until he turns 18 and he is 100% responsible. That way you don’t have to hear about how it is all your fault and why didn’t you stop him when it was up to you to allow him to get it.

    • Exactly. My husband and I both have tattoos, so we’re obviously not in the anti-tat camp. BUT! I sure as heck don’t want the responsibility that comes with allowing/helping/funding my non-adult child’s tattoo. If she wants to get one before she’s 18, she’s going to have to do it without me. No punishment, I just don’t want to be tied into such a major thing.

  7. As an offbeat teen growing up with very “on beat” parents, I was surprised that for my 17th birthday my mom signed for me to get a tattoo.

    It was actually a really great bonding experience for us. She sat there and held my hand and chatted up the artist while I laid there and got drilled with a needle. My mom wasn’t very supportive of my decisions as a teen, but her decision to let me make my own decisions on what I wanted on my body permanently actually helped our relationship in a lot of ways.

    So, while letting your teen get tattooed at a young age might not be the best idea for every teen out there, it worked for me and my mom.

    And no, I don’t regret the tattoo I got whatsoever. It’s something only visible when I wear a swimsuit and something that has special meaning to me because my mom was there and supportive of me.

  8. NO! because i think back to the “cool” tattoos i wanted when i was 16, and i shudder to think if i actually got one of them! we aren’t talking about something they can take back once they have it done like purple hair or a nose piercing. i would make them wait until they were adults and make them pay for it on their own.

  9. As someone who has many tattoos, all of which were acquired from ages 18-21; NO. Big big big no, haha. You change and grow as a person far too much between your teen years towards your adult years. I’m going to teach my daughter that tattoos can be beautiful, but they are something you have to live with forever. And until tattoo acceptance becomes widespread, you can bet your buttons that I will be discouraging ink until my babygirl is at least 25! Then, we can get matching mommy and me tattoos!
    Piercings are a completely different story though 🙂

  10. No. Never ever.

    I have 3 tattoos I got of my own accord once I turned 18 which have meanings for me, and put them in sensible places. I’m still happy with them at 23… but when I was 16 I would have not made such a wise decision.

    I would not let my son get a tattoo at 16, and by law he would not be able to.

  11. I’ll make them wait until they are 18, just because I had to wait until I was 18. I like torturing my kids? I’m also not allowing ear piercing until 10, just like I had to wait… I really don’t know why haha.

    The first tattoo I got was a tramp-stamp half naked woman, and I still love her… but I had to wait!

  12. My mom took me on my 18th birthday to get my first tattoo — and she got her first one as well. We had a very long discussion about what it would be and where it would be, and she asked me about elebendybillion times if I was sure. I’ve gotten a few more since then (I’m 27) all of them with very deep personal meaning to me, and I plan on getting more. I think my mom’s philosophy (she being a liberal but very onbeat parent) was the same as the first time I dyed my hair purple — she’d rather be there with me and help me than let me go through it alone.
    So in that vein, of course I would let my teenagers get them. As soon as they’re legal adults (because most reputable parlors won’t do tattoos on minors) and I’ll be happy to go with them or let them have this coming-of-age-ish ritual all to themselves.

  13. What about people who have their babies ears pierced? Isn’t that the same sort of thing?? I know a piercing isn’t permanent but I have several and it does leave scars.

    I would probably tell my kids that they need to wait just like I had to wait. I would probably give in though, however their father would not. He hates tattoos. I would probably suggest some other sort of body modification that wasn’t so permanent.

    • I totally agree with you! I know it’s not popular, but modifying my child’s body for my aesthetic reasons, causing them pain for no purpose, etc etc – no. Also one of the reasons I’m against infant circumcision.

    • My sister is seven and my mom refused to have her ears pierced until she turned seven AND my sister asked to have them pierced herself. She did just a few weeks ago, and she must’ve really wanted it because we told her it is a little painful, your ears are sore, you have to clean them, etc. I am always so saddened when I walk past the piercing place at the mall and see little babies screaming like crazy!

  14. This is something my partner and I have discussed at length, not only because we have 3 sons, but because he’s a tattooist by trade, and encounters this every weekend. As an extensively tattooed mama I would support my boys wanting (or not, haha) tattoos. Here, kids a young as 16 can get tattooed with parental permission (I’m a bit foggy on the details) and Eddie (my partner) has tattooed 17 year olds. BUT, almost all of the tats he’s done on teens of that age have been reworks or coverups of homemade, “kitchen table” tattoos.

    So yes, I think it’s okay for a teen to get inked, but with qualifications. Parents should talk with their kids, find out their motivation for wanting a tat, and if they do get one, for them to go to a real, sanitary, professional studio 🙂

    • My mom told my sister “no” when she asked for a tat at 16, so my sister found a friend who let her borrow his ink and a needle (not a machine, tho) and inked herself with a “prison tat” style blue heart on her ankle.

      And then my mom had to call around and find someone who would professionally cover it.

      Probably would have been safer to say yes in the first place and get a professional tat.

      (Neither my husband nor I are tattoed. I thought I was going to get one for my 35th birthday but I was pregnant. Now I think maybe at 40, I’ll finally get my back tree.)

      • Personally, I would have let her live with an ugly tattoo rather than pay to fix her own mistake. I’m of the mind that if you say “no,” you stick by it.

        • Me, too. But my sister didn’t actually ask for it to be fixed, our mom was offended by the aesthetics of it and required her to get it tattooed over.

          (Our otherwise totally hippie mom also refused to drive me places, except school, unless I was wearing lipstick and mascara. Um. Yeah. I rebelled by refusing to wear any makeup for years — well, I still mostly don’t.)

  15. Heck’s no! I was such a dummy at 16 in so many ways. I did, in fact, get several tattoos at age 18 and 19 and, while I don’t hate them now, I kind of wish I hadn’t gotten them. I remember when I showed my mother she cried her eyes out. Not angry, just sad. And my reaction was: “What do you care? It’s not your body.” Now that I have a child, I totally get it, though. She is so perfect in every way. I shudder at the thought of her changing her perfect body. Especially with a 16-year-old’s sensibilities. That said, I still want a sleeve. I’m a hypocrite!

    • I’m a hypocrite too. My 19 y/o is getting a highly visible tattoo this week. I thought I’d be totally cool with it, (I have a tattoo that i love)but the thought of her permanetly changing her body kind of makes me sad. And, i’m really glad I didn’t say yes to the trendy finger moustache tattoo she wanted at 16. In any case, she’s a strong, smart girl, and I know she’s gonna rock that ink.

  16. That would be a resounding NO. Not because I don’t have faith in a sixteen year old being able to make a decision that will be permanently embedded in their skin forever barring uber expensive laser surgery… oh wait, yes, yes that’s exactly what it is. At fifteen I knew I wanted at least one tattoo. I actually have one of the tattoos I wanted back then. It was my fourth actually, and the smallest one I have. It’s also one out of probably fifty different designs I came up with as a teenager. I waited until I was nineteen for my first one, I doubt I will ever regret it, and if I had waited another year or two even then, it wouldn’t be the same tattoo. I don’t imagine many sixteen year olds have had enough life happen to them to be able to decide on something they won’t regret later, either because they grow out of the stage that produced it, or realize it was just some tragic mistake. And if they still want it when they’re an adult, they can still get it. Two years to eighteen is a drop in the bucket for something they will wear the rest of their lives. I can almost guarantee most teenagers will change their mind a dozen times in that span of time. Not to mention one of the things that takes the edge off the responsibilities of adulthood is the perks. Being able to defile your body any way you please with no one to stop you is one of those perks! I say let them earn the right to make what may be a huge potential mistake. I just hope my kid will listen as I teach him the right way to go about it, so he can be as safe as possible.

  17. Note: I’m writing this response before reading anyone else’s here. But short answer? No. I will be absolutely fine with piercings in the teenager years and would happily sign a consent for that because -piercings aren’t permanent, my kid would have to understand there might be scarring when they take the stuff out some day, and because they’re a cool way to express yourself. Mostly, it’s the non permanence issue. I wouldn’t sign off on a teenager getting a tattoo because so much changes in a person’s life, especially in the teens and 20’s. And a tattoo is forever, unless you want to pay mad money to get it removed. My kids will have to wait until they’re 18 and make the decision for themselves to permanently mark their bodies. 2nd note: I have four tattoos myself, the first of which I got at age 19 and was a total disaster.

  18. Tough call… On one hand I’d say “Hells no!” because I was 18 when I went and got tattooed. The tattoo is bad, poorly done and oh so common. They do kind of mean something to me, and luckily I put them in obscure location. But the fact remains… Would I have gotten it if I was older? I’d say no.
    I do however NOW have another tattoo and I love it, and I plan on getting more. My husband has one he regrets as well from his teens and an arm piece he’s wanted and loved for almost a decade.
    So… I guess I would advocate against it. But if she was committed I’d make sure she went somewhere skilled/clean and attempt to convince her something small and obscure location as well. No names either or symbols of something she might regret.
    I think it’s better to explain the whole situation gently and perhaps compromise… Then to just say “no” and “forbid” the experience she’s dead set on. Keep our relationship open, honest and keep me involved in her life.
    I did a lot of things unsafely and out of sheer anger because my parents were strict and refused.

  19. I agree with one of the other comments about having them keep their design for 6-12 months first and then allowing it if it’s something benign. I got my only tat at 19–almost 11 years ago!–after carrying around the cross-stitched pattern (I can’t draw straight lines, but I can sew!) for a year. It’s meaningful to me, beautiful, inoffensive, and I have never, ever regretted it. But I look at some of my friends with the tats they got on the spur of the moment and now deeply regret and am convinced that thinking about it for so long made all the difference.

  20. When my daughter was 4 or 5, she was into tattoos in a big way, and I told her that when she was 16 I’d consider letting her get one if she wanted to. Now she’s 15, and, well…
    It helps that she’s since discovered that tattoos actually use needles and not Crayola felt tips. She’s less keen on the idea. If she was insistent, I suppose that I could fall back on the fact that it’s actually illegal here to get a tattoo before you’re 18, and so anybody who would do it isn’t somebody you’d want a tat from. Or that her dad would kill me.
    Honestly though, if I thought that she had really thought it through, and if the design and placement of the tattoo wasn’t too shocking, I don’t know why I should object. 16, 18, 21, I know 40 year olds who probably shouldn’t be trusted with that kind of decision.

  21. I’m a tattoo artist and I deal with lots of young kids coming in looking to get their first tattoos. Minors and body modification is dicey, you can be pierced after 14 and tattooed once your 16, as long as there is parental consent. Piercings come out and heal to barely noticeable marks, so I would say let your kids get all the piercings they want. If they hate them, or change their mind, they can just take them out.
    The level of cover ups done at my shop because of stupid choices when people were teenagers is mind boggling. When I have children, they have to at least be 18 before I let them get tattoos. They’ll be more sure of who they are and less likely to regret that unicorn on their hip. Also, if you’re going through the process with your kids, for piercing and tattoos, don’t pick a shop because it’s cheaper or faster. Pick a shop with a great reputation, high health standards and good people behind the counter. Just because it’s a shop doesn’t mean it’s good, you can still find people that don’t know what they’re doing trying to make a fast buck at the expense of health, safety and ability.

  22. I love tattoos and have several myself, but big fat NO! I got my first tattoo when I was 16. It was spur of the moment and after the big teenage break-up, so needless to say it wasn’t a great idea, and I had it covered up when I was 18 (also not great, but now my reminder of the folly of youth). I also got my teenage tattoo without parental consent. I could do that because I found a shady shop that didn’t ID me. I plan on talking plenty with my daughter about the importance of tattoos when and if she gets interested in them. Like sex, you don’t WANT them to do it but you NEED them to be informed because they’re the ones in control of their bodies. At 16 I thought I’d never have kids and lacked quite a bit of foresight so when the time comes I’ll just show my daughter this giant star I have on my hip, misshapen by stretch marks, that covers a heart with a dagger through it.

  23. My brother got his first tattoo when he was sixteen. A close friend of his and mine died in a car accident, and the tattoo honors her memory. He’d wanted a tattoo since he was about four. This first one was done illegally at someplace disreputable, and fortunately the only consequence he’s suffered is having a poorly done tattoo. The ones he’s gotten as an adult are all gorgeous, where that one is fading and kind of sad looking.

    Given this experience, I think I don’t have a concrete answer. If my son were as confident in wanting a tattoo as my brother was, I would try to talk him into waiting. But ultimately, I’d rather he do it legally and with my consent at someplace safe than find someone who would tattoo a minor without parental consent. So I guess I’d probably discourage it, but if he was persistent, I’d take him to have it done.

    • I think this would be one of the situations I would say yes in, but I would still instill a 3-6 month waiting period to make sure the idea was still there and to find the right shop to do this.

  24. Absolutely yes, with restrictions. I got my first one at 16, and at 23 I still like it. My mom took me to get it done and these were her rules:

    1. I had to think about it for months beforehand, do extensive research on how tattoos actually work, and make sure on my own that the establishment I chose was clean (though I’m sure she also looked at the autoclave on her own as well). This was to make sure it wasn’t a spontaneous decision.

    2. It had to have a special meaning, and I had to be able to articulate it to her and anyone who asked. That the special meaning I chose was a feminist message and my mom takes pride in having taught me to be a feminist probably didn’t hurt!

    3. It had to be somewhere I could choose to hide it if necessary for a job, or if I got tired of it. I chose my upper back.

    4. I had to pay for it with my own money.

    I would probably follow all these guidelines if my teen ever wanted to get a tattoo. I would rather try to establish all these rules as values my child would follow in the years to come regarding tattooing, rather than issue a blanket ban and have my kid go out on her/his eighteenth birthday and get something not meaningful that they would regret.

    • While I would probably fall in the “wait until you’re eighteen” camp, this seems to be the best way to do it. It’s what I think I would do (with modifications as necessary, of course) if my kid wanted to make any big decision.

  25. I got a tattoo with parent consent at 16 . Its not my favorite, and I kinda dont want it anymore. But I dont hate it enough to have it removed.

    It depends on the kid, the tattoo, and their grades, behavior etc. I would consider it. But my tattooist wouldnt, she only does over 18, even on her own kids.

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